There is a lot of dark television these days. TV producers and writers seem to be tripping over themselves to fill this already bleak world with more evil and savagery. The current television landscape is dominated by nasty characters doing devilish things. But Game of Thrones was a step up from everything else. It is the apogee of dark TV.
In this HBO show, we saw characters we loved dying in every single imaginable way. They were beheaded, dangled from ropes, they were stabbed in the eye, their throats were cut, burnt alive, and so on. Also, except for the last couple of seasons, it was mostly the nice characters who were dying. As if the writers wanted the remove whatever hope that was there in the show.
Let us take a look at the biggest character deaths in the show. These are not necessarily the most gruesome, just more painful to the viewers due the character being noble or too young.
There is no order.
(1) Jaime and Cersei Lannister
Despite how (read anticlimactically) they died, Jaime and Cersei’s deaths were two of the biggest the show has ever seen. The twins were the original villains of the show. The smug, ruthless people who would try to murder children and even babies to achieve their twisted aims (Jaime pushed Bran from a tower in Winterfell and Cersei had got several of Robert’s bastard babies killed). And yet, Jaime had a kind of redemption (even if it was reversed to ‘shock’ us) but Cersei? She just became more and more evil.
(2) Shireen Baratheon
Just a few episodes ago before Shireen Baratheon’s death, Stannis Baratheon (who had become the show’s hero for a short while due to his enmity against the Lannisters) had recounted to his daughter how everybody suggested him to let her die so that she would not have to live with the horrible greyscale scars on her face. But Stannis was adamant and did not agree. It was an adorable moment between a doting if aloof father and his daughter. Not long after, Stannis let Melisandre sacrifice Shireen to the Lord of Light to ensure his victory against Ramsay Bolton. In another words, he let his daughter — his only child — burn alive at the stake so he could win a battle. Even Lannisters would not be capable of an atrocity like this.
(3) Eddard Stark
Eddard Stark was beheaded on the orders of Joffrey towards the end of the first season. It was a really, really big death not because it was Sean Bean, whose characters mostly die anyway, but Lord Eddard was the main character of the show, around which the story revolved. It was like killing Harry Potter at the end of the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was an incredibly brave choice (by George RR Martin, the author of the book series) but it is hard to imagine if the chaos that his death plunged the realm into would have been possible otherwise. As Littlefinger said, chaos is a ladder and, on that ladder, men like him climbed to the top.
(4) Catelyn, Robb and Talisa Stark (Red Wedding)
The Red Wedding in the show was even more painful than in the books. It was due to Talisa. Robb’s wife in the books did not accompany him to the wedding. The Freys, with assistance from the Lannister and Roose Bolton, killed Catelyn, Robb, and a pregnant Talisa. She was stabbed repeatedly right where the baby was. Robb was first impaled by arrows and then stabbed through the heart by Roose Bolton, who whispered in his ears, “The Lannisters send their regards.” Catelyn’s throat was neatly cut, and we were forced to watch the spurt of blood for an uncomfortably long time.
(5) Oberyn Martell
The Red Viper of Dorne was a flamboyant character who became a fan favourite soon after his arrival in King’s Landing. He readily agreed to fight against the Mountain in Tyrion’s trial by combat. He was not fighting for Tyrion, his actual goal was to force the Mountain to confess his crimes of raping his sister, Elia Martell, and killing her children during Robert’s Rebellion. He was an amazingly skilled fighter but in his zeal of frustrating Gregor Clegane, he made a false step, and then the Mountain was on him. He grabbed his head and crushed it using his bare hands.
(6) Viserys Targaryen
Now, Viserys was as evil as they come. He probably did not kill anybody, but he was horrible towards his own sister (Daenerys) and was contemptuous of everybody who was not him. He also had delusions of grandeur, and envisaged himself as king of Westeros even though he did not have an army. His death was commensurate to his traits. Once, intoxicated, he barged inside a Dothraki holy place and threatened Drogo that he will kill Daenerys and her unborn child. Drogo said he will give him a golden crown. Viserys was delighted, until he realised it meant molten gold will be poured on his head. This is exactly what happened, and by the time he falls to the ground (and his brain is fried), the gold is solid again and the sound is a sickening, metallic thump.
(7) Tywin Lannister
Tywin, portrayed by Charles Dance, projected a sort of seriousness that convinced one of his incredible inner strength and ruthlessness. He was also the richest man in Westeros and by far the most powerful. His castle, Casterly Rock, perched on a mountain top was impregnable. Every single lord in Westeros, except Eddard Stark (until he died), trembled at the mere mention of his name. And he died at his toilet seat, shot with crossbow bolts by Tyrion. Such is life (in Westeros)
(8) Margaery, Loras Tyrell, High Sparrow and the whole Faith Militant
Cersei did not let even her children’s death disturb her lust for power. Like Tywin, she was utterly ruthless and would not stop until everybody who wants to kill her has perished. In one particular episode, she considerably reduced the show’s cast when she used a cache of wildfire beneath the Sept of Baelor. Many important characters (practically the house of Tyrell) died in the viridescent blast.
He was a hero. He was a half-wit who did not know how to wield a sword, but he was a hero. Hodor’s backstory and subsequent death was so tragic and well-written that it nearly eclipsed the earlier deaths of characters that were far more fleshed-out. We had always seen him uttering Hodor and nothing else, and then we were told the reason.
(10) Lord Commander Jeor Mormont
A honourable man who despite his age led the Night’s Watch very capably. He knew Jon Snow’s quality and was grooming him for his job when he was dead. His words to Jon, when the latter wanted to run away and fight with his brother in the war against the Lannister (immediately after Eddard Stark’s death) still gives me goosebumps. He said, “When dead men and worse come hunting for us in the night, you think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?”
He was tragically killed by men under his own command.
Jon Snow’s love, Ygritte, who told him he knew nothing, died at the Battle of Castle Black. It was Jon she had come to kill due to his betrayal towards the wildlings, but could not do it. She is shot in the back by Olly, who gets his revenge (Ygritte had killed his father). It was a traumatic event for Jon. But at least he is now without any Ygrittes (sorry.)
(12) The Hound
Sandor Clegane was scarred as a kid by his own brother, Gregor or The Mountain, who shoved his face into a burning brazier. Right from that moment, Sandor had an extreme fear of fire. He was an unparalleled warrior in battlefield, but would run like a baby at the mere sight of fire. His lifelong goal was to kill his brother and give a closure to his nightmares. There was that promised Cleganebowl, as the term for their inevitable clash was called in the fandom, and the Hound did have his revenge, but also died in the process. Finally, his torturous life had come to an end and he was at peace.
(13) Jorah Mormont
The knight who was exiled due to his crimes in Westeros finally returned with his queen, Daenerys, to save the Seven Kingdoms from the Army of the Dead. He died while saving Dany from the wights at the Battle of Winterfell. It was a fitting death.
(14) Beric Dondarrion
Lord of Light’s chosen warrior, Beric Dondarrion, was given a purpose by his god. It was finally revealed in the third episode of the show’s final season. It was to save Arya from the wights so that she could assassinate the Night King and end the war there and then. This time there was no Thoros of Myr to revive Beric, who had died many times before but was revived by his friend since his purpose was not finished in the world of the living.
Varys was what passes for an intelligence agency in Westeros. Just like CIA, he had an entire network of spies all over the world. His loyalties were to the realm, to the people, and while he played the game of thrones, he did not want power. His goal was to instate a good, kind monarch on the Iron Throne. For a long time, he thought that was Daenerys and served her loyally, but after he came to know of Jon Snow’s parentage, he instantly began to work towards making him the king. He knew he will be executed, and it was his friend Tyrion Lannister who snitched.
(16) Daenerys Targaryen
Easily one of the biggest deaths in the show ever, Dany dying was not particularly surprising after what she had done. That it was Jon who killed her was appropriate since he was the one who had been defending her against reason for a long time.