"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die," and to win takes cunning, wit and most importantly, smarts. Sure, some like Robert Baratheon may take power through force and sheer will, but keeping power in Westeros (and Essos, for that matter) takes so much more than swordplay and pure brute strength.
Nobody knows that better the 11 characters listed here. Whether book smart, brilliant tacticians, or just the possessors of raw intelligence, these are the sharpest minds in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. For some, their schemes and careful planning has led them to great heights, for others, it was their downfall.
Here are the 11 Smartest Characters in Game of Thrones.
11 Davos Seaworth
Initially introduced as a reformed smuggler and devout follower of Stannis Baratheon, we can be forgiven for at first overlooking Davos’ greatness. Unable to read and seemingly willing to go on blind faith when it came to following the would-be king, Davos lived in Stannis’s shadow in the first few seasons.
Since season three, however, Davos appears to have come into his own. In addition to learning to read from Shireen, we see him questioning Stannis’ decision-making process and overreliance on the Red Woman, unveiling an intelligence that was previously kept hidden from view. In particular, his abilities as a leader and man of strategic smarts came to the fore in last week’s premiere, where Davos took control over Jon Snow’s body and the situation at Castle Black with skill and ease. Now that Stannis is dead and Davos has no one to answer to but himself, we can’t wait to see what the Onion Knight will bring to the table in season 6.
10 Sandor Clegane / The Hound
Although he may not seem like your average intellectual, The Hound knows that to survive in Westeros you have to give as good as you get – the GoT equivalent of street smarts. Ok, he may be a bit of a sociopath, in the sense that he always looks out for his own interests first, but Sandor is not completely without compassion, and his advice to Arya and Sansa in the past proved beneficial to both characters.
Unlike other warriors in Westeros, Sandor also knows that pride is a huge downfall. He is not against swearing allegiance when it is of benefit to him, even if it may bruise his ego a little. This can be seen in his submission to Joffrey, even though he clearly despises him, and his reluctance to get involved in fights he know he can’t win for the sake of honor.
9 Samwell Tarly
Book smart, well-educated and loyal, what Sam lacks in fighting-skills he makes up for in resourcefulness. Although his father sees his lack of physical-abilities as a sign he is not a worthy heir, both John Snow and Maester Aemon see the scholarly young man for his true potential, even though he is the last person to see what he is capable of.
Sam knows he’s not made for the battlefield, and instead has chosen to embrace the skills he does have and decides to train to become a maester. He is also very insightful, doling out advice and acting as shoulder to cry on for best pal Jon. Still, his main weakness is his own sense of self-doubt, which he needs to overcome in order to protect Gilly and little Sam.
Assuming he makes his way back from Old Town in time, Sam's book smarts should come in handy in the true war to come.
8 Margaery Tyrell
As beautiful as she is clever, charismatic Margaery knows how to win the hearts and minds of those around her. Like a young Cersei, she’d do anything to be queen, and she's been trained in the art of court politics since birth.
Unlike Cersei, who never made any effort to bond with the people of King's Landing, Margaery knows that they need their backing to rule successfully. She therefore demonstrates a willingness, no, a desire, to put in the time and effort to win their approval, helping to cement her place as queen with both the commoners and Joffrey. After Joffrey’s death, she used the same manipulative tactics to win over his brother Tommen, and to gain enough influence over the teen to worry his control freak mother Cersei.
She's been rotting in a jail cell for a while now thanks to her mother-in-law. Will she use that sharp brain of hers to enact revenge?
7 Cersei Lannister
Sure, she’s evil, and the whole of King's Landing hates her, but you can’t deny that few scheme better than Cersei. Cold, ambitious, and willing to do anything to protect her own, the majority of Cersei’s plans centre around her belief that anyone who isn’t a Lannister is an enemy.
Cersei knows being a woman in Westeros isn’t easy, and although her approach to life is cynical and self-servicing, she’s definitely making the best of a bad situation. She believes herself to be as skilled as the men in the family, and although she has never been allowed to participate in certain activities because she's a woman, she finds her own way of getting stuff done. Her last scheme against daughter-in-law and frenemy Margaery Tyrell may have completely backfired and resulted in some jail time and THAT walk of shame, but we're sure she'll bounce back stronger (and meaner) than ever before.
6 Daenerys Targaryen
The last Targaryen, the world initially underestimated Daenerys and her abilities, but so far she’s proven the doubters wrong every time. She’s gone from a timid teenager to the Mother of Dragons over the last 5+ seasons, but what makes Daenerys stand out amongst other contenders for the throne is her willingness to trust her intuition, which has led her to make some pretty bold decisions (and currently has her in a sticky situation with the Dothraki).
Another element that sets Daenerys apart from her competitors is that despite her ever growing power, she still knows that she has more to learn and knows when to ask for help from her advisors. With Tyrion’s quick-thinking, Varys' network of spies, Daario Naharis' street smarts and her natural instincts, this group could go far — if they ever truly come together.
5 Tywin Lannister
The richest and most powerful man in Westeros for a few years, Tywin Lannister ran everything from behind the scenes until he was murdered by his son Tyrion in the season four finale. Although he was born into an ancestral seat of power, Tywin used his particularly cruel brand of intelligence to manipulate his connections and rule the battlefield, bringing the declining Lannister house back into a position of supreme power.
Holding several political titles at one time or another, including Hand of the King, Warden of the West and Protector of the Realm, even tear-away King Joffrey feared the head of the Lannister clan. Adept at both politics and war, Tywin never backed the losing side, and part of his success came down to knowing when and with whom to form alliances, such as his decision to bring the Tyrells (the second wealthiest family in the Seven Kingdoms) into the battle of Blackwater, which saved the capital.
On the surface, Tywin’s plan to marry Cersei off to the usurper Robert Baratheon and ensure a grandson on the throne seemed like a good idea, but Tywin is proof that even the best laid plans go awry. You might make all the right moves, but let’s face it, you can’t predict incest, or your son shooting you with a crossbow mid-number 2.
4 Olenna Tyrell
Master of politics (and from whom the precocious Margaery learned her skills), Lady Olenna Tyrell knows what she wants and how to get it. Using her womanly wiles, as young lady, the Queen of Thorns seduced her sister’s fiancé to gain a more favourable husband in the form of Luthor Tyrell, and holds a great deal of influence over the Reach. She is also one of the few people Tywin treats as an equal, working with one another to maintain the realm despite their rivalry.
After Margaery’s engagement to Joffrey Baratheon, Olenna temporarily moved to King's Landing and worked behind the scenes to cement the Tyrell’s power in the capital. After prodding Sansa into admitting that Joffrey is "a monster," she then plots his murder to protect her granddaughter, setting up Tyrion to take the fall and ensuring Margaery a much sweeter kingly match — Tommen. She is also may have had a hand in the humbling of Cersei after the Queen Mother schemes to get Loras and Margaery imprisoned, proving that if anyone can match Cersei when it comes to protecting her own, it’s the Queen of Thorns.
3 Lord Varys
A skilled manipulator, there are many reasons Varys is known as ‘the Spider.’ The Master of Whisperers until he was forced to flee King's Landing in the fifth season, he acquired the title through his own hard work and wits, rising from a slave in the slums of Myr to the king's Small Council. His complicated spy network, whom he refers to as his ‘little birds,’ spans not only the continent of Westeros but also the neighbouring land of Essos. Nothing gets past his notice, which is the reason he is feared by both nobles and commoners alike.
Perhaps what's most impressive about Varys is his carefully crafted public persona. Leading the world to see him as nothing more than a slightly overweight, effeminate man who is accustomed to the pleasantries of court life, he manipulates his friends and enemies with skill. It’s why such a seemingly weak-willed and unassuming man rose to a position of significant power, and why he still continues to thrive in the harsh political climates of Westeros and beyond.
2 Littlefinger / Petyr Baelish
Another expert manipulator, he came up with the ingenious plan of using his ownership of brothels to uncover political secrets — the only person whose spy network rivals his own is Varys. Like the Spider, he came from nothing – an impoverished noble boy who rose to become the Master of the Coin – and this is partly due to his ability to keep to the shadows. Many of his advantages in life come from his ability to influence his specific clientele, catering to the fetishes of rich men and manipulating powerful people.
Little Finger’s sociopathic nature is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. Although he uses it to control those around him, his insatiable lust for power, bitterness, and warped view of the world means he believes he is the victim rather than the source of many of his own problems. After having screwed over most of Westeros at one point or another, he may soon prove to be too smart for his own good.
1 Tyrion Lannister
"The queen has two brothers?"
"There's the pretty one, and there's the clever one."
It’s pretty obvious which one Tyrion is. Although he exhibits self-destructive behaviour, such as drinking himself into oblivion and cavorting with ladies of the night, his quick-wit, natural intelligence and sharp tongue mean he can, and does, keep up with the best of them. Despite their unfortunate relationship, even Tywin recognized his son’s potential, and his brief turn as Hand of the King proved him to be both wise and caring.
However, Tyrion’s devoted nature has also proven to be his downfall. His bittersweet romance with the deceitful Shae and constant battle to win his cold father’s love got him into trouble on countless occasions, and is partly responsible for his current exile in Essos.
The (mathematical) main protagonist of Game of Thrones appears to have a tough task ahead of him in Meereen, as he's been tasked with establishing order in a city that's tearing itself apart in Queen Daenerys' absence. He's already tapped Varys and his network of spies for help and freed the other two dragons, so we'd say he's well on his way to making a lasting impression on both Meereen and the last living Targaryen. We'd expect no less from the man who drinks and knows things.
Who do you think is the smartest character in George R.R. Martin's world? Let us know in the comments.