The 8 Ball 03.26.13: The Top 8 Game of Thrones Characters
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.26.2013
From Tyrion Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon to Ned Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 characters on Game of Thrones!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Game of Thrones Characters
At long last, the wait is finally over. In five days (six at the time of my writing this), HBO will allow us to return to Westeros to see people lie, cheat, steal and murder (and worse) their way ever closer to the Iron Throne. I'm speaking, of course, of the season three premiere of Game of Thrones this coming Sunday night. The series based off of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels has earned its legion of fans through impressive production values, edge-of-your-seat storytelling and a pretty solid (though not pathological) dedication to be true to the source material. More than any of that though, what keeps many of us coming back to the series wanting more is the characters. The series has an enormous ensemble cast and each of them is given their due, all having a part to play in the greater narrative and their machinations, moral conflicts and trials are what tie us to the screen. With the show making its return, I thought this week would be a great opportunity to look at the best characters that the show has given us so far.
Caveat: This is pretty self-explanatory; if they are a character on Game of Thrones, they are eligible. Just a couple quick notes: this is specifically referring to the characters as they have been depicted on the HBO series as opposed to what happens to them in Martin's books, so anything past the second book does not factor in here. Finally, realize how rough of a list this was to narrow down. Game of Thrones had one of the largest ensemble casts on television; it premiered with the largest single set of regular cast members (aka appearing in a majority of the episodes) of all time. I came up with thirty-plus people who were potentially eligible for the lists and some very harsh cuts had to be made. Such is the curse of making top list columns, though.
Just Missing The Cut
Sandor Clegane, "The Hound"
#8: Eddard "Ned" Stark
Ned Stark was essentially the lead character of season one; while a multitude of characters vied for screen time as we were introduced to the setting and plots of the series, the head of House Stark and Lord Paramount of the North was the character that we most commonly followed throughout the first ten (or rather, seven) episodes of the show. With arguably the most well-known actor playing him in Lord of the Rings star Sean Bean, Ned was the eyes of the audience as we followed him to King's Landing and saw him introduced to the politics of court. Bean played Ned as the honorable man within a den of noble-blooded thieves and it is through his investigations that we learn many of the conspiracies that are afoot. He is at his core a good man and while he has his flaws, he is the person we can most strongly identify with because of his inherent nobility and his quest to do the right thing by his people and his king. In fact, we are positioned to identify so strongly that his death is the biggest turning point in the first season; it sets up the war that follows and turns many other characters on their trajectories that have placed them were they are at this point. There was considerable shock from those who were not familiar with the books when he was executed, as HBO marketed the show largely on Bean and it is rare for a show to kill off such a major character so early--or indeed, at all. The only thing keeping Ned from ranking higher on this list is the fatal flaw that his honor brings to him; it leads him to make many crucial mistakes that set up his own demise to the point that there have been many internet memes pop up to poke fun at those flaws. Ultimately, Ned was a great character who was simply ill-suited for the politics that are essential for survival in Westeros and that provided his undoing.
#7: Jaqen H'ghar
To be fair, it is perhaps a bit unfair to say Jaqen H'ghar is one of the best Game of Thrones characters because Jaqen H'ghar does not exist. Rather, it is an identity created by one of the Faceless Men, a guild of legendary assassins in Essos and Westeros. However, that is the name we know him by so there you have it. When we first meet Jaqen he is a criminal in King's Landing who is selected by Yoren to be taken to the Night's Watch. Jaqen happens to be among the people travelling to the Wall when Arya Stark joins them, which is to his benefit as she saves him from being burned to death within his cage when it is set afire during an attack from Lannister forces and he promises to kill three names for her. Jaqen is one of the more mysterious and intriguing characters of the series; he keeps Arya's secret because he is impressed by her spirit and his skills as an assassin are quite possibly unmatched. It is not just his survival skills that are so impressive though; it is actor Tom Wlaschiha's ability to make Jaqen such a distinctive and intriguing character without any real backstory. It is easy to set yourself apart from the pack when you have a long and detailed story to draw from and that the writers can depict in various ways, but with Jaqen we only have Wlaschiha's performance to go off of. He plays incredibly well off of Maisie Williams as Arya and their uneasy alliance (one might even call it a friendship of sorts) is one of the highlights of the second season.
#6: Joffrey Baratheon
Let me be clear here; I don't like Joffrey. No one likes Joffrey; we're not supposed to like him. He's a sixteen year-old sociopathic monster, the child of incest who seems to constantly up the ante on the horrible things that he can do. But that's why he is such a good character; in a lot of ways, he is the perfect heel of Game of Thrones. Our Internet Wrestling Community brethren over in the Wrestling Zone can attest to the fact that every good story needs a good heel, someone who we are frothing at the mouth to see taken down. Joffrey is that character to a T; all of the terrible things that he has done (and will continue to do, we can be sure) are ways to further build the anticipation toward his eventual fall. Jack Gleeson has probably the most difficult job on this show; he must take this character that has basically no redeeming features and he must play him as more than just a caricature. Certainly there is a bit of mustache-twirling villainy in the role but Gleeson is actually more toned-down than I think people would be willing to give him credit for. His actions and mannerisms make sense for a young teenager raised within an immoral, power-obsessed family and given no sense of moral grounding whatsoever. More to the point he has proven himself more formidable than anyone expected, openly defying and even threatening his mother at times and showing Tyrion that he is not so easily manipulated as they may think. In a world that is all about shades of moral grey, Joffrey is pitch-black and his true strength as a character is allowing us to view some of the other antagonists in a more humanizing light by comparison. When Joffrey finally goes down I think we'll all cheer, but we will also be short a character that is an important part of the series and its themes.
#5: Arya Stark
Arya Stark could have been such a disastrous part of the show if played wrong. She is the young, plucky and stubborn character who is played as cute and endearing on many other shows, which rarely works out as they often come off more annoying than enjoyable. Where Game of Thrones and Maisie Williams in particular succeed is that they make us take Arya seriously as a character. Sure, she's a nine year-old girl and she has her moments where she acts like a nine year-old girl, but she is also kid who is forced very quickly to grow up when everything goes bad for the Starks and she takes that burden upon herself because she simply has no other choice. Williams establishes great chemistry with everyone she works with on the show, whether it is her father-daughter relationship with Ned, her alliance with Jaqen or her scenes in the second season with Tywin at Harrenhal. She balances out the tricky tightrope of being someone who can survive in the treacherous plot developments with the fact that she is indeed a young girl and, as such, is not the equal of most of her elders in neither mental nor physical terms. Most young characters that we follow through fantasy or science fiction epics fall short, either because their elevation to be an equal or better of others is groan-inducingly unrealistic (think Young Anakin Skywalker in Phantom Menace) or because the character is constantly whining and generally an irritant. Arya balances between those two pitfalls, coming off as realistic as possible without making us want to strangle her. That's an impressive feat.
#4: Petyr Baelish
While Joffrey is undoubtedly the most evil villain in Game of Thrones, he is not my favorite. He's too overt and in fact that is sort of the point; he is a strong villain character but there are those who run circles around him. One of those is Lord Baelish, the proprietor of King's Landing's brothels and the Master of Coin on the Small Council. In a lot of ways, I see Littlefingers as what Joffrey might become if he grew up and got a brain; Baelish is a very smart man who knows not to flaunt his power the way that Joffrey does but he is no less prone to using terror as a weapon to get what he wants. Baelish comes off as a personable man and plays himself off as less powerful than he is, but when the opportunity presents itself you see the monster underneath. Consider as an example the scene in which he gently lays out what will befall Ros--one of his ladies of the night--if she doesn't get over the loss of Mhageen's daughter. As much as he acts like a mostly-good guy, it's all about how it serves him. Ned learns this in the most final way possible...but hey, Littlefinger did say not to trust him. Aidan Gillen tears into the role with such relish and his conversations with fellow information-broker Varys are usually a highlight of any episode; hopefully he stays in King's Landing more in season three and doesn't venture out after Catelyn as he did in the last season, which is one of the few times he isn't brilliant.
#3: Cersei Lannister
Cersei is my favorite pure antagonist of the series. I say "pure antagonist" because in the post-Ned Stark era just about every character is antagonistic to some degree. Cersei, however, has no such middle ground; she is clearly an antagonist of the highest degree and Lena Headey excels in the role. Headey (who I have also loved in 300, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dredd among other roles) has what may just be the best sardonic smirk in the entertainment industry. She has a way of smiling as Cersei that is so incredibly emotive and puts all of her jaded, derisive amusement in an almost palpable form. Cersei is a character that was made for us to hate; the first episode sees her having sex with her brother, who pushes young Bran out of a window and breaks his back. And from there she gets worse before she gets more sympathetic; even that sympathy is simply because we realize that she has reasons for acting as she does and because she's not nearly as monstrous as her son. Headey is able to have Cersei play off different people in incredibly different ways; the character is an emotional chameleon and even though he never quite miss the cynical scorn under the surface, she does so well in playing to Sansa, Tyrion, Joffrey and everyone else in ways that appropriately suit her. When we see her speak with Robert about their failed romance, it doesn't come off as a cheap ploy to make us not hate Cersei because Headey and Mark Addy make us believe in it. But even though we don't really hate her, we certainly don't want to see her succeed because she's someone who embraces what she is and acts not because she must be a bad person, but because she chooses to. It's a fascinating portrayal and she makes for a truly great character.
#2: Daenerys Targaryen
Some might bristle at me putting the Khaleesa this high on the list, and to be fair there is a lot of personal preference here. That's why it's an opinion column, after all. Whether I have a personal bias for Daenerys or not though, the fact of the matter is that she is an incredibly strong character whose only real flaw is the fact that she has been largely outside of the main thrust of the plot up to now. The remaining heir to House Targaryen has arguably climbed the farthest from the first season to the end of the second. The character starts off as a victim, sold by her brother Viserys to the dothraki warlord Khal Drogo in exchange for the resources to take the Iron Throne. It is Daenerys though, more than any other character in the series, who takes control of her own destiny as she makes herself not Drogo's slave but his truly equal wife. When Drogo dies she takes over his khalasar and causes the first dragons in years to be born. However, it would be unrealistic for them to just have her suddenly be all-powerful and knowing, and she still has a lot to learn. Season two continues her quest to become the master of her fate as she finds herself in Qarth where she is surrounded by those who wish to bend her to their own ends; despite some stumbling she perseveres and ends the season with the ship that she needs to return to Westeros and stake her claim for the Iron Throne. Emilia Clarke was a last-minute recasting in the role after Tamzin Merchant didn't work out in the unaired pilot and it was clearly a great choice as Clarke is amazing in the role. She has the many qualities needed to pull Daenerys off; the haughty arrogance of the Targaryen, the motherly aspects that she needs to guide her people and the steely edge to survive in the many hostile situations that she has uncovered. I know who I'm cheering for to take the Throne.
#1: Tyrion Lannister
Yeah, you probably guessed this one. Tyron Lannister placed #4 on my list of the top television antiheroes of all time and when you consider that about 80% of Game of Thrones characters probably have some level of antihero in them, it's clear to see who is going to take the top spot. Tyron is the most compelling character in the show and much like Daenerys he has a hell of a journey from the beginning of the first season to the conclusion of the second. When we first see him he is as manipulative and hedonistic as anyone in House Lannister and he appears to care for nothing but himself. However, as we see him in his interactions with Jon Snow, Bran Stark, Shae and even Catelyn in season one and then Sansa in particular in the second season show that, unlike most of his family, he is not completely evil. Peter Dinklage earned a well-deserved Emmy for his performance; he dips Tyrion into that morally grey area with ease and he is the glue that holds the show together. It is a joy watching Tyrion navigate the treacherous political waters of the show and whenever he appears he instantly becomes a highlight of the episode in question. Of all the great characters in the series, he is clearly the best.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Eleven (1974) Episodes Watched: 605 Last Serial Completed:Invasion of the Dinosaurs - The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in 1970s London to find it has been evacuated because dinosaurs have appeared mysteriously and are rampaging through the streets. While the Doctor teams up with UNIT to determine the origins of the prehistoric creatures, Sarah Jane investigates on her own. But can either of them prevent a plot to revert London to a pre-technological level? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 24
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.