HBO’s Game of Thrones became TV’s biggest cultural phenomenon. George R.R. Martin’s epic novels thrust the dark-fantasy genre into the mainstream upon its live-action adaptation. Its influence and impact were so profound that HBO is currently expanding the franchise on-screen through spinoffs.
Unfortunately, for many fans, the show ended on a bitter note that undermined the rich and sweeping character arcs they experienced in the first seven seasons. But while that may be so, the show should still be credited for having a wide cast of compelling characters throughout.
Season 1: Ned Stark
The fate of Eddard Stark in the penultimate episode of season 1 cemented in people’s minds that, in this show, no one is safe. Sean Bean was arguably the most high-profile actor at the time, and he put on a strong performance throughout to back that reputation up.
Ned was a classical, honorable man, and it was admirable to see those traits in such a cruel world. He stuck by his convictions, but while admirable, it also was his downfall. His pride and nobility made him naive about justice simply prevailing as long as the light was shined on the injustice, and it cost him his life. With the show being finished, Ned’s ɗᥱαꚍɧ is still one of the worst things to happen to the Starks.
Season 2: Tywin Lannister
There were several noteworthy villains throughout Game of Thrones, but Tywin Lannister is still one of the most imposing the show has ever had. Like with Sean Bean, Charles Dance played the character masterfully and commanded every scene he featured in.
Tywin operated like a cold, calculating machine, where everything he did was to hold indomitable power as the head of House Lannister and Lord of Casterly Rock. The power plays he made showed off his intelligence, and even when serving as the insufferable Joffrey’s Hand of the King, Tywin was the one truly in power. His scenes with Arya Stark were also among the most memorable and tense.
Season 3: Jaime Lannister
Season 3 of Game of Thrones had some of Jaime Lannister’s best episodes. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau did an excellent job depicting Jaime’s reprehensible beginnings as a warped “Prince Charming” figure to his (mostly) redeeming character arc. In season 3, Jaime is being escorted by Brienne of Tarth back to King’s Landing, which is the journey that starts his redemption the hard way.
Getting his hand abruptly severed showed that he has some empathy since he was trying to save Brienne, but the gruesome attack also brought him down to earth. It showed him that his royal name and Lannister gold can’t buy him everything. By the time he reaches King’s Landing, Jaime made a noticeable step toward the better.
Season 4: Tyrion Lannister
Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister is one of the series’ characters that could arguably be considered the best in more than one season. It makes picking out a single standout character difficult for many fans, but season 4 has one of the most pivotal moments in Tyrion’s character arc and his most iconic scene.
Tyrion was more a cynical anti-hero who grew jaded from his dark upbringing as House Lannister’s most hated member. However, by season 4, Tyrion had tasted glory, respect, and genuine love. That’s why it hurt all the more to see him betrayed by Shae and framed by his father, Tywin, and sister, Cersei. Tyrion’s scene when standing up for himself at his trial was one of the most intense performances and cathartic scenes in the entirety of Game of Thrones.
Season 5: Daenerys Targaryen
Emilia Clarke’s iteration of Daenerys Targaryen transcended the series and she has many stand-out scenes throughout seasons 1-7. Surely, several are good Game of Thrones episodes to rewatch before House of the Dragon‘s premiere. Season 5 is another crucial point in her development before sailing for Westeros, as Tyrion’s arrival, her inner conflict about how to reform Meereen, and how to deal with Jorah’s betrayal made her story increasingly tense.
The attack by the Sons of the Harpy was the peak of this tension, with her subsequent escape and abduction by the Dothraki Horde kicking off another major turning point in her arc. This intrigue served Daenerys’ plot well but was, unfortunately, one of the casualties of season 8’s writing.
Season 6: Jon Snow
Like with Daenerys, Kit Harington’s iconic Jon Snow has become synonymous with Game of Thrones. Season 6 addresses, early on, the shocking cliffhanger of Jon’s ɗᥱαꚍɧ in season 5. In episode 2, Jon is abruptly resurrected by Melisandre’s ritual. He then goes through even more intense trials in season 6, now having the responsibility of freeing the North from Ramsay Bolton’s impending stranglehold.
While still flawed, he represents a more refined version of Ned and Robb Stark, with his compassion for the people of Westeros to live prosperously above all else proves inspiring. The fated “Battle of the Bastards” also ranks as one of the best and most nerve-wracking episodes of the show. The cinematography, score, and Harington’s portrayal of the character facing down Ramsay’s army emphasized his emphatic heroics throughout.
Season 7: Cersei Lannister
Cersei Lannister is another character that could easily make a case for being the best character in multiple seasons. She’s one of the most consistent villains in Game of Thrones in terms of her prominence and performances. Lena Headey carries herself so well as Cersei that even among the likes of Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton, she still stands out whenever she’s on-screen.
Cersei’s sheer presence is constantly intimidating and cunning, with season 7 showing her at her lowest. Now with the position of Queen of Westeros and all her children ɗᥱαɗ, she’s depicted essentially as being unleashed. Only Jaime might be able to reign her in, but even then, she demonstrates her terrifying conviction to being a tyrant.
Season 8: Theon Greyjoy
For many, it’s difficult to point to one character that was well-written in season 8. The likes of Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, and Jaime all got treatments that essentially lost the plot of what seasons 1-7 built up, but fans generally agree that Theon Greyjoy got a satisfying close to his arc.
Alfie Allen did an excellent job from season 1, episode 1, establishing a cocky, arrogant young man and convincing fans of both the depths of his villainous moments and his triumphant redemption. Season 8 was the peak of this arc at the Battle of Winterfell, where Theon gives his life to buy Bran and Arya Stark more time against the Night King. The sacrifice play was fitting based on the arduous journey he’s been on, and in the eyes of even Sansa and Jon, Theon Greyjoy ɗ𝔦ᥱd a Stark of Winterfell.