Game of Thrones is returning this weekend, and it is probably the biggest show on television right now. There probably isn’t a TV show that can inspire such frenzied and passionate discussion, and a large part of that is down to the huge list of brilliant characters that the show can boast. With that in mind I’ve turned to one of the biggest Game of Thrones fans that I know, Alex Hayler, to help me narrow down the extensive character list down to our Top 5. Before we start I wanted to list some of my honourable mentions, including Tywin Lannister, Sansa Stark, Margaery and Olenna Tyrell, Brienne of Tarth, and the man it killed me to leave off, Ser Jorah Mormont. Spoilers ahead… obviously.

Number 5:

  • Shuggie: Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane – The Hound, Bronn, and Tormund all come under the same kind of bracket for me. They’re funny, tough, and don’t take s*** from anyone. Of these The Hound is by far my favourite, and so is the one who makes my list. He started off as just an imposing and threatening figure, but as we got towards the back end of Season 2 his character grew. He shows a degree of honour and compassion when he protects Sansa during her time at King’s Landing. But when he abandons Joffrey with the immortal line “f*** the king” he really became a GREAT character. Violent, foul-mouthed, and highly opinionated, everyone looked forward to scenes involving The Hound. His storyline alongside Arya made one of the best pairings or team ups in the show’s history. His return after supposed death at the hands of Brienne brought such a fever of excitement with it, and he was the one main actor who got to share scenes with Ian McShane. You know when a scene has The Hound in it’s likely to be one of the best in that episode, and we can all still help for the Clegane Bowl. GET HYPE!
  • Alex: Melisandre ‘The Red Woman’ – What I love about everybody’s favourite servant of R’hllor (sorry Thoros), is the contrast between certainty and uncertainty present within her character. She knows that her faith is the correct one because she has seen its power, but she doesn’t know how she should best serve her god. She pretends to of course, proclaiming this person and that the saviour of the world, but in reality she is choosing a possible champion and hoping for the best (as we saw with the death of Stannis). The irony of course, is that even in a world where one religion is demonstrably more powerful and real than the others, the believers still rely heavily on faith in the unknowable. Subtext aside though, Mel is also an intriguing character in her own right, and fits the role of mystical foreign witch perfectly.

Number 4:

  • Shuggie: Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish – The ultimate schemer in Westeros, it’s hard not to love Littlefinger. He’s influenced so many of the major events in the history of Westeros. Right from the start he’s been the driving force in so much of what happens, he’s behind the murder of Jon Arryn that kick starts the events of the series. He’s also partially responsible for the fall of Ned Stark, was involved in the murder of Joffrey, saved Jon Snow and his army from Ramsey Bolton, and has effectively installed himself as the ruler of the Vale after murdering Lisa Arryn. His scenes in the first couple of seasons often proved to be some of the best and most politically intriguing in the show. Any time him and Varys would clash were incredible, and contributed to Season 2 being my favourite thus far. In terms of the sheer amount of work that he’s put in to claiming power Littlefinger deserves the Iron Throne much more than anyone else.
  • Alex: Bronn – Ser Bronn of the Blackwater is the antithesis of the ‘knight in shining armour’, despite his formal title. Where the true knight would meet his opponent on an equal field and chivalrously lock swords, Bronn would prefer to throw gravel in his eyes, knee him in the balls, and slit his throat before he got back up. A man of simple tastes, Bronn’s two main concerns are wenches and gold, and it just so happens that fighting is the easiest way for him to access both. The fact that he is a total charmer whilst doing it is the key to his character, as it is his easygoing cynicism and his acceptance of the messed up nature of the world that has so endeared him to many. He’s willing to be a bastard when he has to, but deep down, he’s just doing what it takes to survive and thrive in Westeros.

Number 3:

  • Shuggie: Robb Stark – Of all the Stark children Robb is the one who really made an impression for me. Sansa’s journey has been incredible, but Robb is my favourite. Richard Madden is probably the best of all the actors who played Stark children, and managed to bring Robb the charisma that Jon Snow can only dream of. Right from the first episode Robb was a likeable, witty, but huge respected character. This meant that when he stood up to fight back against the Lannisters following the death of Ned it was hard not to root for him. He proved himself as an excellent tactical commander (far better than Jon who would have lost the only proper battle he ever fought if not for Littlefinger), surely showing that he was the true King in the North. And in the end he died for pursuing love, a foolish move certainly, but one we can all relate to. Oh and that also happened to be the most memorable death scene in the series, The Red Wedding.
  • Alex: Tywin Lannister – A controversial statement, but Tywin is probably the best villain in all of Game of Thrones. I know many would say Joffrey, others Ramsey, and some maybe even the Night King, but Tywin has something that the other ‘big bads’ don’t have; he’s grounded in reality. Ramsey and Joffrey are psychopaths, and it’s clear that many of the things that they do (and the mistakes they make) are done only to sate their wild desires. The Night King, for now at least, is a supernatural unknown. Tywin is different from these in that he is totally rational, and nearly everything he does makes sense when you consider his prime motivation: preserving and strengthening House Lannister. His actions against our heroes, whilst often appalling (cough, Red Wedding, cough), aren’t taken out of primal hatred, but rather cold, dispassionate logic. This makes him the more terrifying opponent, as it is far harder to outsmart a thoughtful, calm murderer than it is an insane one.

Number 2:

  • Shuggie: Cersei Lannister – I’ve said it before but Cersei is one of my all time favourite characters, and in my eyes the one true queen of Westeros. For me she truly embodies what makes a great Game of Thrones power player. She says to Tywin at one point that maybe he should have focused on her, and that’s a fair comment, because she has absolutely stepped into the berth that was left by his death. Even before that she exhibited brilliant political strategy, although sometimes this can get lost in her more emotional and rash decisions. The finale of Season 6 showed exactly what she is capable of. Her back-story of abuse is something that is incredibly harrowing, and shows the strength that she has to overcome that, plus her loyalty to the few that she cares about is fierce. In short LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!
  • Alex: Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane – “I came here to eat chicken and kill c***s, and I’m all out of chicken” isn’t a line uttered by Sandor Clegane, but it might as well be. Probably the biggest badass in Westeros, the Hound is also a broken man, shaped into the killer that he has become by circumstance and a brutal upbringing more than by his true nature. In the books, it seems his arc is concluded, with the heavy implication being that he has retired as a monk on the Quiet Isle. In the show however, he seems to be on the path to put his demons to bed in a more violent manner, a decision I thoroughly approve of. Sandor is more than just a murderer with a big sword though, and underneath the burnt exterior may lie a more sensitive soul. He seems to have a quiet affection for the Stark girls, though he’d never admit it, and he may even be on the path to finding a god in the show as well as the books. I eagerly anticipate seeing the direction that they take his character in now that he has joined up with renown R’hllor-basher Beric Dondarrion, as a relationship with the flame god could make for fantastic symbolism considering his fear of fire. We shall soon see.

Number 1:

  • Shuggie: Oberyn Martell – From the second Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn Martell came onto our screens for the first time he stole the hearts of the viewers. Whilst Oberyn didn’t survive that long he made a huge impression. He had a confidence to him, a laid back swagger that just screamed “I don’t give a f*** what you think about me”. I loved his open attitude to life. His motivations were some of the strongest as well; attempting to have the truth about his sister’s death revealed is just such a pure and supportable motive. That moment he offered to stand as Tyrion’s champion rightly inspired a ton of memes and cemented his place as the suave hero we all needed. And then the tragic ending. His fight with the mountain is probably one of the two best-choreographed fight sequences on the show, and he wins it. But, unlike Syndrome, Oberyn sadly got caught monologuing, which we all know you should never do. His actual death was shocking for the level of violence, which was above most of what the show had out before. But despite this, and him having just an 8-episode arc, he made such an impact I had to have the Red Viper at the top of my list.
  • Alex: Tyrion Lannister – As much as it is a cliché to pick Tyrion as my favourite Game of Thrones character, I don’t know many fans who wouldn’t at least have him in their top five. He is, in my humble opinion at least, GRRM’s greatest creation, as the idea of putting a Machiavellian intellect inside the body of a dwarf is a fantastic one. The execution, both in the books and show, is equal to the idea, as Tyrion steals most of the scenes he is in with either his wit, his wisdom, or a combination of both. It is clear that his inability to rely on his body to get him out of a tricky situation has led to him developing his mind, and one of the best aspects of his character is watching him talk his way out of a bad situation. Since season one, we have seen Tyrion’s fortunes ebb and flow dramatically, from Lannister freak of little consequence, to hand of the king, to regicidal prisoner, and now back to hand. Returning to Westeros as advisor to a potential conqueror can only bring interesting new challenges, and I for one cannot wait to join the ride. Roll on July the 16th!

So those are our list. Let us know what you think of our favourite characters, and who you’d include in the comments. And brace yourself for the return of Game of Thrones, this Sunday, 16th July.