House of the Dragon ended its hugely successful first season with an episode that included everything, from plots to steal the Iron Throne to dragon battles and a violent death. In short, it was just another day in Westeros. Yes, House of the Dragon was a resounding success, but it owes much of it to Game of Thrones. The show that single-handedly revived the fantasy genre and redefined what the word “spectacle” meant in television, GoT was a game-changer.
The show conquered fans’ and critics’ hearts with a successful mix of political intrigue and good, old-fashioned drama; there was nothing like it on television or film. Game of Thrones featured a seemingly endless parade of morally-dubious characters vying to seat on a pointy chair, and we couldn’t get enough of them. Indeed, the pursuit of power was at the heart of GoT, with every major player wanting to get their share of the glory. But what is power in Westeros? Varys said it best: it’s an illusion, a shadow on the wall. And these characters certainly cast a very large shadow. Whether because of their resources, armies, gold, or charm, these figures were the most powerful in Westeros and the beating heart of the game of thrones.
If Game of Thrones had anything close to resembling a prototypical hero, it was Jon Snow. A Stark through and through, Jon was honorable, brave, selfless, guided by a strong sense of right and wrong, and willing to put aside his pride for the greater good. Jon fought many battles, suffered heartbreaking betrayals, saw countless people die, and lived for years with the knowledge of the White Walkers and the threat they posed to the realm.
Few characters rose as high as Jon did. He went from the Bastard of Winterfell to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, to King in the North, to would-be King of the Andals, the First Men, and the Rhoynar. However, in his timeless words, he “don’t want it.” Jon assumed power but never enjoyed it; he inspired many but earned the hatred of countless others. Jon’s power always had a ceiling because he never allowed it to go beyond his grasp. Perhaps the Game of Thrones sequel will see Jon as King Beyond the Wall-like figure, but it’s pretty unlikely. Jon doesn’t want to rule anything; by the time the show ends, he just wants to die in peace.
Spiders can be dangerous if underestimated; Varys is the perfect proof. The Master of Whisperers was a remarkable player of the game of thrones, almost as good as Littlefinger — in the show, anyway; Varys is miles ahead of everyone else in the novels. The Spider trades in secrets; he knows everything about everyone, even things yet to happen. Thanks to his little birds, Varys can be everywhere, anytime. And in a place like Westeros, his near-omnipresence is a power unlike any other.
Alas, Varys never holds any real power; however, he whispers in the ears of those who do, and in many ways, that’s just as if not better. Varys is the show’s most mysterious character, a clever man who played the game for the long run. His loyalties were with the smallfolk, and while his wealth and standing were limited, his influence and reach spread across Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea.
No one, and I truly mean no one, played the game better than Petyr Baelish. Littlefinger had every major character in the palm of his hand, manipulating them from the shadows. He single-handedly began the War of the Five Kings with only a few well-chosen words and a dagger. Littlefinger’s philosophy — chaos is a ladder — led him to become one of the richest men in Westeros, seizing opportunities like war and conflict to improve his station. He went from controlling customs at Gulltown to Master of Coin at Robert’s Small Council. Throughout the show, he rises even higher, becoming Lord of Harrenhal and Lord Protector of the Vale.
Littlefinger proves his cunning time and again. By the time his death comes in season 7, he wields considerable power and influence over the Vale. However, Littlefinger has few allies; his Machiavellian ways are infamous across Westeros, and no one in the realm trusts him. When push came to shove, no one dared intercede on his behalf.
All hail the Queen of Thorns. Lady Olenna Tyrell was one of the game’s best and most cunning players. She commanded respect everywhere she went, acting as the de-facto head of her house and managing the Tyrell’s vast resources. Olenna was so capable that she was one of the few characters capable of going head-to-head with Tywin. Olenna always had the last word, literally.
Besides her famed reputation as a no-nonsense woman, Olenna held considerable influence in the realm. She knew how to play the game, and no one dared underestimate her. Olenna heard beyond Varys’ whispers and saw beyond Littlefinger’s lies; she was the hand that guided some of the show’s most important events, and she did it all without ever staining her hands with red. She was very, very good.
Although she spends most of her time in the show as a somewhat helpless victim, Sansa eventually becomes one of the most influential and powerful people in the realm: the Queen in the North. Sansa has some of the best character development in Game of Thrones, going from an obnoxious and silly girl to a confident and resourceful young woman willing to risk everything for the North.
The road isn’t easy for Sansa, but she overcomes every challenge. Sansa’s strength of character leads her to defend the North’s interest against anyone, be it Daenerys or Bran. Sansa ends the show as the ruler of the newly restored kingdom of the North, on equal grounds with Bran. The North is the largest kingdom in Westeros, and every Northman and woman will be unflinchingly loyal to her, meaning Sansa will preside over a vast territory with a capable and staunchly committed army. Enemies of the Starks, beware; the North remembers.
Good old Robert Baratheon. He only wanted to get drunk and fight; gods was he a great character! Robert won the Iron Throne after his rebellion. He never wanted to rule; he only wanted revenge against Rhaegar and to end the house of the dragon out of spite. In his mind, the Targaryens’ many crimes were too heinous to continue; all dragons and their spawn should die.
As King of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert held considerable power. He didn’t care about it, though, and chose to spend his days “eating, drinking, and whoring his way to an early death.” Still, Robert wielded his power when it mattered, and no one in the Seven Kingdoms dared oppose him. It could be said that his power was limited because someone always ruled in his place, but while there’s some truth to that, it’s undeniable that Robert wielded absolute power during his time on the Iron Throne, at least on the surface.
Cersei Lannister said it best: “power is power.” In Westeros, that means armies and gold, and no house had more of both than the Lannisters. The Lions of the Rock were feared across the Seven Kingdoms, especially once Cersei became Robert’s queen. Although her position was prominent, her influence was limited, even if she was the first lady of the realm. Still, that didn’t stop her from using her wealth and standing to do what she wanted, getting away with her by using intimidation and fear.
Things change after Joffrey and Tommen’s deaths. Cersei becomes Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and proves herself cunning and ruthless enough to play the part well. Despite losing most major houses to Daenerys, Cersei plays her cards right, securing gold from the Iron Bank and the other half of the Greyjoy fleet. Cersei held on to the Iron Throne for as long as she could, and while she knew she was fighting a losing battle, she put up an admirable fight.
Fear was synonym with power in Game of Thrones, meaning Tywin Lannister was one-of-a-kind in Westeros. If any of his bannerman or enemies even thought of defying him, Tywin needed only to send a singer with a harp; as soon as “The Rains of Castamere” played, any talk of rebellion ended. Now, that is power.
Twice he was the most powerful man in the realm, effectively ruling the kingdom during his tenure as Hand of the King to Aerys II and Joffrey. His influence went beyond just gold or armies; Tywin was intelligent, making alliances through marriage and cementing the Lannisters as the realm’s most formidable, envied, and feared house. Tywin gave a new meaning to the word “power;” he understood it was a fickle and treacherous illusion and made sure to always be in command of the narrative. Tywin’s shadow loomed large over Westeros, even after his death. His reputation was just as impressive as his actions, a rare enough thing for the Seven Kingdoms.
The Mother of Dragons had everything she needed to win the game of thrones, except for good writers. Daenerys was Game of Thrones‘ undeniable star, who single-handedly elevated the show to new heights. Dany was inspiring and fascinating, and it’s no surprise she amassed so much power throughout the show’s eight seasons.
At the height of her power, Daenerys commanded an army of Unsullied, a horde of Dothraki, the Second Sons, the Greyjoy fleet, and three fully grown dragons, not to mention the armies of Dorne and the Reach. The Breaker of Chains had more raw power than anyone else in Westeros or across the Narrow Sea; she could’ve taken King’s Landing in hours had it not been for the awful and misguided advice of one Tyrion Lannister. Daenerys could’ve lived to become the greatest Targaryen conqueror since Aegon; alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Who has a better story than Bran, the Broken? Arguably everyone else in the show. Alas, Bran Stark won the game of thrones; that much is true. The young boy went beyond the Wall and became the Three-Eyed Raven, holding a power that allowed him to be everywhere and see everything; in his words, he lived in the past. Bran became the memory of Westeros, arguably giving him all the insight he needed to be a capable king who wouldn’t make his predecessor’s mistakes.
As the new King of the Andals, the First Men, and the Rhoynar, Bran is the most powerful individual in Westeros. His supernatural abilities further add to his position, making him unique among the continent’s rulers. Bran ends the show as the undisputed winner of the game of thrones; even more impressive is the fact that he never even played it, which is basically a middle finger to everyone else who tried and failed to sit on the ugly, pointy chair.
You can stream all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones on HBO Max.
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