The Best Characters in A Song of Ice and Fire
George Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire is popular for many reasons, but mostly for the amazing characters. After spending thousands of pages inside their heads, you feel like they're part of your family, and none can really be called protagonists or villains. Most are capable of vile treacheries one moment and tender mercies the next. But who are the best? Here are my ten favorites, in descending order.
1. Arya Stark. As far as I'm concerned, her journey has been the most arduous of the three wargs. She may not be a cripple like Bran, or battling undead armies like Jon, but she's been out of enough frying pans and into as many fires just trying to survive. And now that she's an assassin in training, I can't wait to see this little bad-ass released on Westeros when she graduates as a full-fledged Faceless One.
2. Tyrion Lannister. If Ned Stark's honor was his downfall as the King's Hand, then the dwarf's cunning is his salvation, even if it's short-lived when his father comes to town and runs him down. His mummer trial completely cements my adoration for him when he tells his sea of accusers that he wished he really had killed Joffrey, and indeed that he wished he had enough poison for them all. Here's another one (like Arya) who flees east and will surely return bearing vengeful gifts.
3. Aeron Greyjoy. The prophet-priest of the Drowned God is grim and cheerless in a very entertaining way -- I love his homiletical stings. He clearly has no intention of letting Euron keep his kingship, insisting that "captains raised Euron up, but the common folk will tear him down", but I could easily see Aeron bringing his godless brother down single-handedly. I'm not sure that Ironborn baptisms are for me, however, (being drowned and then having the sea water pounded out of you), as some don't survive the blessed ritual.
4. Samwell Tarly. A secret hero of mine, and how could he not be as Castle Black's librarian? He's actually the most courageous character of the series, precisely because he's such a coward. And let's face it, most of us are more like Samwell than we'd care to admit. Arya may be my #1 choice, but if I were thrown into the world of Westeros, I have no delusions that I'd be anything like her. I would behave like Ser Piggy -- cringe every time someone took out a sword and hide away in a room full of books. But what he does for Ghilly is precious, and his manipulation of Cotter Pyke and Denys Mallister brilliant.
5. Sandor Clegane. I have a soft spot in my heart for abused people with self-loathing issues, especially when they have a soft spot in turn for others. In the Hound's case, it's vulnerable girls. Though he has an impossible time showing it, he cares about Sansa and Arya, though he is capable of killing either given the right trigger. I love the way he's so contemptuous of everyone but himself, in the way only self-hating loners are, and it will be interesting to see what happens to him in solitude on the Quiet Isle.
6. Bran Stark. Paralyzed legs and a broken back do not a fun life make, and I can well sympathize with Bran's desire to lose himself in Summer completely. Crippled heroes are fairly unconventional, and you have to love a kid who's willing to be lugged around on the shoulders of a giant retard, and keep his chin up even further when his home and people are destroyed by treachery.
7. Olenna Tyrell. The tiny old shrew known as The Queen of Thorns is the most underrated character of the series. It's almost as if James Clavell wrote the chapter in which she and the Tyrell ladies question Sansa about the Joffrey; the hennish preliminaries are a riot. Olenna holds forth on the oafishness of men, slamming her ladies with dismissive rejoinders, interrupting everyone left and right. This woman's tongue is as lethal as Valyrian steel, and I'm not sure Aegon the Conqueror himself could have stood up to her. It's fitting that she's the one guilty of the regicide for which Tyrion is blamed. She only gets one full chapter, but a very memorable one.
8. Jaqen H'ghar. I'm going out on a limb with this guy, since his agenda is so unclear. He's bad and dangerous, no question, but quite colorful (literally and figuratively) and bound by the assassin's code of honor that compels him to murder people at Arya's whim after she saves his life. I love the way he takes to affectionately calling her an "evil child" after she outfoxes him (by requiring that he assassinate himself unless he helps subdue the garrison of Harrenhall), and I can't help suspect that these two are bound to hook up again at some point.
9. Jon Snow. A favorite of many readers, and after Ned Stark the character with the most integrity. He functions as the story's everyman (someone we easily identify with even when placed in extraordinary circumstances) and thus is a bit more traditional and less tasty than other characters on this list, but I do like the way he's able to rise to the challenge of being a double agent, and the endearing way he takes things to heart.
10. Daenerys Targaryen. Another fan favorite for obvious reasons, but as with Jon, not high on my list for being traditional in many ways (royal child in exile who comes into her own against the odds). But she has to make the cut for being the mother of dragons, after all, and for her heart, and for strong ideas about justice. I just wish she had a bit more of the Targaryen madness, though that could be on the way in later volumes.