One of the main reasons people find Game of Thrones so captivating is the depth of character. Everyone that comes on our screen has a fully developed back story that motivates them to act the way they do, even if it’s hard for us as a viewer to understand it. And in a world with the social mores and values of a hard, medieval society, it’s no wonder actions that the characters see as completely logical blow our mind.
I tend toward the romantic, meaning I usually root for the good guy to win. In a show as far reaching as Game of Thrones, however, it’s hard to pin down the good guy. There’s a lot of good guys, all of which sometimes do things that are bad. And there are a lot of bad guys that sometimes do things that are good. It’s hard to draw a line between the heroes and the villains, and using their houses isn’t as much help as it would normally seem.
So after throwing my hands up in frustration at working out which characters were meant to most embody the good guy, I just switched tactics and wrote a list of my favorite characters. This is that list.
5. Jon ‘The Greatjon’ Umber
Although he doesn’t get a lot of time, the Greatjon helps make the back half of season one really shine. Robb Stark is an incredibly important character to the mythology being built, but he’s one of the less dynamic players. Once Ned Stark is kidnapped and Robb decides to call his banners, it’s necessary for him to have generals on the field, and there’s few generals better than the Greatjon.
Jon Umber is an enormous man, standing nearly 7′ tall, as wide and as strong as a bull. He carries a sword that’s as heavy as a large child, and hasn’t figured out how to use his inside voice. It was that voice that most loudly called for Robb to become the King in the North, and rather than yelling it cowardly from the back of the hall, he was always the first willing to draw his sword for his new king.
4. Jorah Mormont
Ser Jorah Mormont’s story is a traditional one of a noble knight struggling with the idea of nobility, broken twice by love (and soon to be broken a third time by the looks of it), trying to make things right by his King. When we first meet Jorah, he’s a wandering sellsword ready to become adviser to a king and princess in exile. By the end of the season, he’s his queen’s closest champion.
We learn quickly that he’s the eyes and ears of King Robert Baratheon when it comes to the Targaryen children, but traveling with Daenerys causes love to strike the poor knight yet again. The final test comes in the form of an assassination attempt he foils after first making possible, and from that point on Daenerys has her first general.
3. Tyrion Lannister
A large portion of the Game of Thrones fanbase self-identify as ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’, at least on some level or the other, so it isn’t hard to see how the character that is constantly judged for being physically different, mocked for studying, and heckled for having interests that don’t line up with what he’s expected to be interested in would become an instant fan favorite. Peter Dinklage inhabiting the role only makes it that much more charismatic and intense.
Tyrion is hated by nearly everyone except his brother, Jamie, and the handful of commoners that are let into his world. He lives a life of excess, not merely proclaiming that he wants to piss off the edge of the world, but actually making the trip and doing the deed. He would probably be the most capable head-of-household the Lannisters could ask for, but an accident of birth has turned him into the house jester, an imp meant to perform for guests by showing good manners and good counsel, but otherwise meant to be hidden in the closet under the stairs. He’s a guy that we’ll see again on this list in future seasons. Not like our number one, but before we get there we need to talk about…
2. Danaerys Targarean
If you had told me that Danaerys Targarean would be one of the show’s most popular characters after I’d only seen the first episode, I would have called you a fool and a liar. The earliest scenes we’re shown of the woman are some of the most objectifying and dehumanizing scenes ever recorded, and they left a horrible taste in my mouth. But she lives in a harsh world and that kind of thing is something that happens, so as much as I disliked what was happening, I understood that it was a tool to illustrate exactly how despicable her brother was.
What I didn’t realize and was elated to discover is that it wasn’t just a tool to illustrate her brother’s awfulness, it was a part of her character she would accept, learn from and move past, but those scenes (and the many that came before that we, the audience, aren’t privy to) inform all of her future decisions and by the end of the book, she’s the most emotionally powerful and morally driven character in the story. She would be my favorite, if it weren’t for…
1. Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North
I was not aware of any Game of Thrones plot points when I started the first season, so for about four or five episodes I clearly thought that the show was a murder mystery about Ned Stark trying to figure out who killed his old friend, Jon Arryn. He was the strong leader that always make the Right Decision, no matter what the price. He upheld the Law, was Kind and Generous. He was good to his family, and he was good to his enemy’s family, raising Theon not as a captive, but as his own ward.
I invested heavily in the character and his family from the very beginning, partially because the narrative told me to, but more importantly because I wanted to. I’m the kind of guy that likes to root for the knight in shiny armor, especially when that knight in shiny armor is Boromir. His heroes journey was strong, defeated and critically injured by Jamie, turned on by Littlefinger, held in chains in the dungeon. But I knew that he would win, he would somehow escape and lead the armies his son was gathering for him to retake the throne for another Baratheon, this time for Stanis.
Then he got his head chopped off, and the Game began in earnest.