While researching an upcoming article about character names, I got distracted by a Rolling Stone article from before Season 4 began. The article lists the “top” Game of Thrones characters, and its rankings, which I discuss below, are definitely debatable.
Rolling Stone uses the word “top” to mean “the most memorable” characters, or the ones with the “strongest story arcs. The best one-liners. The most shocking demises.” Are their choices truly memorable? And, are they memorable now that Season 4 is over? A lot has changed.
First of all, Rolling Stone‘s article is great because it leaves lots of room for debate. If every list began with Tyrion and Arya, it would be boring, right?
Rolling Stone ranks Daenerys as #1. Emilia Clarke’s portrayal of Daenerys is about as wooden as it gets and her storylines on the show often feel like they are on pause. The next day nobody is ever standing around the water cooler talking about Daenerys. Sure, Daenerys has some good lines — “Dracarys!” frankly kicks butt — however, Askmen.com also named Emilia Clarke as the desirable woman alive this year. Does a hot actress make a character more memorable?
Since Rolling Stone’s article is about the show, I guess it’s fair for the actors’ performances — and their onscreen charisma, sex appeal, and presence — to influence their rankings.
The number of memorable scenes a character is in, however, might also influence their “memorable-ness”. If this is the case, would all of Rolling Stone‘s picks make the cut? What about now that Season 4 is over?
Just for kicks, here are a few thoughts about Rolling Stone‘s list. If you haven’t read it already, you may want to take a look at the article I wrote about the most memorable moments in the show as well, which I created with Rolling Stone‘s list in mind.
Here are a few perplexing, intriguing, and debate-worthy highlights from Rolling Stone‘s list: I’d love to hear what you think and who would be in your top ten.
Rolling Stone’s Top Ten Characters
Rolling Stone‘s intriguing and even baffling picks for the top characters in Game of Thrones.
10 – Brienne of Tarth
I love Brienne, but I’m not sure if I think she is more memorable than Catelyn Stark (for example) whom Rolling Stone ranked a lowly #39 out of 40. Still, the scene when Locke made her fight a bear with a wooden sword in the “Bear and the Maiden Fair” was pretty intense. And, Jaime’s rescue of the fair maiden was nothing but romantic.
9 – Tywin Lannister
As anyone who reads this site regularly knows, I’m a huge fan of Charles Dance’s performance, which brings a nuanced complexity to Tywin’s character. I can split the difference with Rolling Stone on ranking Tywin #8. How about you?
8 – Bronn
Yes, really: Bronn made the top 10. Jerome Flynn’s performance certainly humanizes the sellsword, but how much would we miss Bronn if he wasn’t around? Surely not as much as his neighbor on this list, Arya. And, is he really more memorable than, say, Jaime Lannister (#13)? Who can forget the moment Jaime pushed Bran out the window in Season 1?
7 – Arya Stark
Should Arya be higher on this list? In most fan polls, including an old one from the early days of this website, Arya is listed as everyone’s second favorite character. Arya is the only major point-of-view character with a chapter in every novel.
6 – Cersei Lannister
The “mother of madness” has encouraged her brother/lover to shove a child out a high tower window, driven her husband to condemn an innocent dire wolf, and relished the thought of killing her brother. Without a doubt, Cersei is one of the top characters we love to hate.
Cersei’s character drives numerous plotlines. Even though she is evil incarnate, she never appears plasticky and we can see how she became who she is. While the wicked queen hasn’t had quite as many truly monstrous moments lately, her smile when Prince Oberyn died could freeze lava. Cersei’s spot in the top 10 is still well deserved.
5 – Ned Stark
Given we haven’t seen Ned in three years now, it might be surprising he is this high on Rolling Stone’s list. However, after his shocking execution in Season 1 and the shock waves it sent across the Internet, I’d argue Rolling Stone could have ranked Ned #1. Come to think of it, given the stunned reaction of fans after Oberyn’s death, if Rolling Stone had written this list in June instead of March, maybe Rolling Stone would have placed Oberyn could have given Ned a run for his money.
4 – Sansa Stark
This may be the perfect and well-deserved spot for Mrs. Tyrion Lannister. Teenage Sophie Turner does an admirable job bringing the once-spoiled noble girl to life in an increasingly sympathetic way.
3- Tyrion Lannister
Should Tyrion be the top dog? He is almost always the winner of the “everyone’s favorite character” polls. Tyrion is even George RR Martin’s favorite character.
I’d be willing to be willing to bet that the Imp gets more screen time than Daenerys. And, Tyrion’s plotline is one of the most exciting around.
2 – Joffrey Baratheon
Joffrey could easily rival Tyrion as the most memorable character. George RR Martin himself has praised the now-retired-actor Jack Gleeson’s performance. The novels provide more backstory into young sociopath-in-training’s truly sadistic ways than you see in the show. Gleeson’s performance, however, compensated for this loss and helped cement our hatred of the young king.
In the novels, George RR Martin gives us a lot more insight into Daenerys emotional landscape and the thirteen-year old princess’ terror in being sold to a foreign warlord. The book Daenerys grows on you in ways that the TV Daenerys does not. I might even go so far as to say that the only thing that redeems this rather lackluster storyline are the dragons and the fabulous secondary characters — Jorah of Mormont, Grey Worm, and Missandei — and the actors who portray them.
In fairness to Daenerys, she may well be one of the most important characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, many seasons seem to end with powerful images in her world (“Mhysa!”), and she has some fantastic lines and powerful scenes. Who can forget her ruthless decision to crucify all the slave masters of Meereen?
And, before I get hate mail for calling Emilia Clarke’s performance wooden, it is worth pointing out that what appears to be a wooden performance might be the director’s instructions or her dialog. Daenerys doesn’t get nearly as many conflict-driven scenes and only rarely gets to utter those killer lines.
Should Rolling Stone given these people the ranking they received?
11 – Robert Baratheon
Number 11 is far too high for Robert Baratheon. Not only did the late king have relatively few scenes, dramatically Robert Baratheon is relatively unimportant. Yes, he is the king and his death is certainly one of several catalysts in season 1, but he doesn’t actually propel the plot forward that often through often through his own actions. His dramatic role is more passive.
How is it that Daenerys is #1 and yet her counterpart Jon Snow is #16? Fans are betting their fates will converge and their storylines certainly have equal weight. After all, both of their faces are in Season 4’s major promo ad?
21 – Petyr Baelish
Rolling Stone ranked Littlefinger as #21. This might be fair in fact. Still, as the mastermind of Jon Arryn’s death and the schemer who got Ned to King’s Landing, Littlefinger may be the one who is ultimately behind the Game of Thrones.
At the bottom of the heap
Some surprisingly low-ranked characters from Rolling Stone’s list.
38 – Ramsay Snow
This may be a situation where a character has become much more memorable in Season 4.
First of all, Iwan Rheon delivers a magnetic performance in his role as Ramsay Snow. You can’t take your eyes off of him. And, Ramsay’s fight with Yara was electric.
Although Ramsay isn’t a point-of-view character in the novels, he gets almost as much screen time as Theon. Ramsay has been in almost every scene with Theon this season. Ramsay’s actions also drive a fair number of storylines, including the flaying of the Ironborn, the capture of Moat Cailin, Yara’s rescue attempt, and more. Plus, who can forget when Ramsay and Myranda hunted Myranda’s rival through the woods?
32 – Samwell Tarly
Not only is a Sam a point-of-view character as of A Storm of Swords, he also has a significant amount of screen time.
29 – Theon Greyjoy
Theon has some of the most shocking scenes in the show and is a major point-of-view character as of A Clash of Kings. What on earth is Rolling Stone thinking? Who can forget when Theon seized Winterfell, chopped off Ser Rodrik Cassel’s head, burnt the bodies of the little farm boys? Not to mention what happens with Ramsay. I would like to forget how Ramsay captured and savagely tortured Theon — and yet I can’t.
27 – Robb Stark
Robb Stark was one of the three main victims of the Red Wedding — the show’s most shocking scene to date and the scene in A Storm of Swords that George RR Martin found the hardest to write. Surely, Robb should at least be in the top 20?
24 – Olenna Tyrell
Although Olenna Tyrell sadly gets relatively little screen time, Diana Rigg’s riveting performance gives this character disproportionate gravitas. Also, if the show is to be believed, Olenna co-conspired to off Joff. If Daenerys can win on the basis of Emilia Clarke’s on-screen charisma, surely we could knock Olenna up a few notches?
So, that’s the list, but the main fun of this is to be debate it. What are your thoughts on these rankings?
All images are copyright HBO.