It’s the game that determines the course of the show and which of our favorite characters live and die. Many players have come and gone throughout the history of Westeros all trying and vying to build power and influence. Some have even came within reach and claimed the ultimate prize, the Iron Throne.
There have been plenty of players over the course of the show among the loads and loads of characters. But some have definitely stood out. These are the characters whose political influence has gone beyond the personal or immediate to shape the setting itself. Characters who have made major plays to seize and keep power. They come from all walks of life, and their methods vary, but they all share the goal of bending others and the world to their will. With Season 6 featuring some of the biggest power shifts the show has ever seen -- and with the final battle lines taking shape -- we thought it would be a good time for a retrospective of the top contenders for power.
For this list we are definitively ranking the best and biggest players in Westeros based on their political savvy, their power base and how far they have risen or fallen, relatively, over the course of the whole series thus far. We’ll also examine each player’s biggest play and their greatest weakness. Here are the top 15 Best Players Of The Game Of Thrones!
15 Davos Seaworth
Davos Seaworth spent most of his life as an outlaw until he was caught and drafted into the service of Lord Stannis Baratheon. The two men grew close enough that Stannis named Davos his Hand as he tried to stake his claim on the Iron Throne. Davos’s worldly council wasn’t enough to save Stannis from his own blunders, but we have seen him make a few big deals on behalf of his chosen leaders.
Davos was the one to convince the Iron Bank of Braavos that Stannis was a sound investment even after his devastating loss at Black Water Bay. Davos was also empathetic enough with Lady Mormont to convince her to pledge her house to Jon Snow’s campaign. He may not have gained much power or authority for himself, but his actions have been invaluable to the leaders he’s served.
Biggest Play: Convincing Melisandre to revive Jon Snow. Davos may not have planned on Jon trying to retake the North after returning to life, but the fact is that the Starks would not be the Lords of the North again without Davos. He was the one who persuaded Melisandre to try and bring their leader back to life.
Biggest Weakness: His faith in Stannis. Stannis had earned Davos’ loyalty when he rose him up in his campaign. But Stannis also disappointed Davos on several accounts. He repeatedly sacrificed innocents, including his own daughter Shireen, for ultimately nothing.
14 Grand Maester Pycelle
This lecherous old coot has been a quietly major player in King’s Landing since before the events of the series. He seemed to be not much more than a ponderous old man in Season 1, but he’s actually been pulling strings for the Lannisters since the days of the Mad King. He betrayed Tyrion’s confidence in Season 2 and told Cersei about Tyrion’s plans to marry Myrcella to the Martells.
There’s this great deleted scene from Season 3 where Tywin forces Pycelle to level with him about his mannerisms and his true loyalties. But after Tywin is killed, Pycelle does all kinds of kissing up to the new Tyrell-influenced court and takes serious issue with Cersei’s power grabs. His days of pulling strings and taking advantage of girls a third his age proved to be numbered in Season 6.
Biggest Play: Convincing the Mad King to trust Tywin. His biggest play actually occurred before the show began. Jaime recounts in Season 3 that during Robert’s Rebellion when the Lannisters were marching on the still Targaryen-held King’s Landing, Pycelle was the one to convince the Mad King that Tywin was still trustworthy and marching to his aid. This allowed Tywin’s soldiers murder most of the Targaryen royal family.
Biggest Weakness: Getting on Cersei’s bad side. Pycelle may have felt that the Lannisters were the strongest house in the realm, but he repeatedly butted heads with Cersei and left her out to dry when the High Sparrow imprisoned her. We don’t really know why Cersei singled Pycelle out at the end of Season 6 (possibly to appease her more loyal servant, Qyburn), but she had clearly had enough of him.
13 Walder Frey
House Frey had lived in the shadows of their liege lords the Tullies for centuries before Walder Frey came along. Because House Frey had built up great wealth over a short time by exacting tolls for crossing the Green Fork, the Freys found themselves the subject of plenty of two-faced derision. Walder dealt with that himself. Robb Stark had promised to marry one of his daughters, but broke that oath when he fell in love with the foreigner Talisa Maegyr.
One Red Wedding later and Walder Frey had made his house the lords Paramount of the Riverlands and gotten in House Lannister’s good graces. Walder made quite a show of appearing to be appeased when Robb Stark tried to make amends by having his uncle Edmure Tully wed Walder’s daughter instead. Even offering guest right didn’t stop him from making this outrageous coup.
Biggest Play: Hosting the Red Wedding. Robb Stark and major lords in all the noble houses of the North and the Riverlands were killed at the Red Wedding. Walder keeps up the charade all through the ceremony and the feast, just to make sure Edmure’s wedding to his daughter is consummated before unleashing his sons’ knives on his enemies.
Biggest Weakness: Complacency. As soon as the Freys became the Lords of the Riverlands, things started going south for them. Brynden the Blackfish Tully rallied enough men to oust the Freys from Riverrun, and several other lesser houses fought the Frey’s rule. After Jaime threatens Edmure to get him to surrender Riverrun, Walder feels like he’s sitting pretty. But he didn’t notice Arya carving up his sons and serving them to him in meat pies.
12 The High Sparrow
Perhaps the High Sparrow’s truly devout faith and indiscriminate pursuit of punishing sinners was enough to make him a uniquely threatening political player in King’s Landing. Perhaps there was some cunning on the level of Cersei’s caliber as well. We see that even Olenna Tyrell can’t find a way to manipulate the High Sparrow after he imprisons Margaery and Loras.
Regardless of where his political and personal savviness came from, he was able to out maneuver all the Lannisters and Tyrells in King’s Landing, even when they came for his prisoners with an army. He played on Tommen’s lack of (living) good role models and gave him a context for understanding and trying to do good as King. When Tommen announced the holy alliance, the High Sparrow basically became a High Septon on the Small Council. Not bad for a disillusioned son of a cobbler.
Biggest Play: Jailing Cersei. With Margaery and Loras both jailed for crimes against the Gods, it looked as though Cersei was free to persecute anyone in King’s Landing that could ever threaten her influence. Then the High Sparrow turned the tables on her with dirt from Loras. By forcing Cersei to make her walk of shame, he sewed discord among the Lannisters and the Tyrells and gave himself an in to influence Tommen.
Biggest Weakness: Underestimating Cersei. The High Sparrow should never have let Cersei leave the Sept of Baelor if he knew what was good for him. Granted, he may have never known about the cashes of wildfire beneath the Sept, but he underestimated just how far Cersei would go for revenge
11 Sansa Stark
Sansa Stark may have grown the most, physically and personally, out of all the characters on this list during her time in the series. She started out as a pretty naïve highborn girl swept up into a whole world of murder and politics that she was completely victimized by -- and unprepared for. She survived pretty much only by virtue of being valuable as a marriage pawn for the Lannisters.
Sansa was smart enough to take cues from the more savvy people around her like Littlefinger, Margaery, and even Cersei. When Littlefinger stole her away after Joffrey’s death, she got to watch first hand as he schemed to take the Vale of Arryn for himself. She’s grown to be clever enough to fool the lords of the Vale and to escape from the Boltons at Winterfell.
Biggest Play: Summoning the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards. Sansa learned to leverage Littlefinger’s affection for her into a history-changing battle. Jon may have organized the effort to retake Winterfell from the Boltons, but the Starks and the Wildlings would have been wiped out if not for the Knights of the Vale that Sansa called upon.
Biggest Weakness: Naiveté. It’s consistently been the biggest obstacle Sansa has had to overcome about herself. She did not suspect the depths to which Joffrey or Ramsay would abuse her, and she trusted Littlefinger multiple times -- to disastrous results. Even in season 6, she still expected the name of House Stark to rally more of the houses throughout the North than those that actually answered the call
10 Roose Bolton
Roose Bolton was always a conniving bastard. Until the end of Season 3, he at least appeared to be a conniving bastard for the good guys when he was Robb Stark’s bannerman. He apparently decided he’d rather be the Warden of the North answering to a Lannister King than a bannerman of a consistent underdog like the King in the North.
He also had no illusions about being a hated Warden in the North. He knew that so many of the lesser houses wouldn’t really be loyal to the Boltons, and that the Lannisters wouldn’t bring their armies so far North to defend his claim against the Ironborn. Marrying his son to Sansa, the eldest (presumed) living Stark heir might not have done much to build alliances and trust, but it was best for him to keep a close eye on her all the same.
Biggest Play: Murdering Robb Stark. Who wears chainmail to a wedding feast? Roose Bolton does, when he’s planning to murder his king. He also cleverly ducked out as Catelyn Stark caught on, and reappeared only when the slaughter had stopped -- to put his knife in Robb’s heart.
Biggest Weakness: Thinking he could control Ramsay. His son undermined Roose’s careful planning at every turn by torturing his political assets in Theon and Sansa. By Season 6, it was abundantly clear that Roose and his bastard had different approaches to ruling the North. Perhaps Roose might have dealt with Ramsay himself after his legitimate son was born, but the villainous bastard obviously beat him to that punch.
9 Margaery Tyrell
Margaery always wanted to be The Queen. As the daughter of the Lord of High Garden, she grew up in a family of longtime political players, and when 5 kings were suddenly vying for the Iron Throne, the Tyrells decided to hedge their bets on more than one of them. Margaery has matched wits with Littlefinger, Cersei, and even briefly mollified Joffrey. She’s also better than most in the game of winning the hearts of the commoners, and she knows the importance of discretion. Her brother Loras didn’t always share that trait.
Biggest Play: Ushering in the holy royal house of Baratheon and Tyrell. Margaery has repeatedly shown she’s good at acting the part. But in Season 6, she turned a bleak imprisonment into a renewed Queendom. She was able to convince the High Sparrow and the Septons with her performance of a converted highborn, while still keeping her true priorities with her family.
Biggest Weakness: Absolutely rotten luck. Renly had the largest army at the outset of the War of Five Kings but was assassinated by a conjured blood demon. The Lannisters had just crushed the Starks at the Red Wedding, then Margaery’s own grandmother poisoned Joffrey. She was about witness Cersei’s trial by the Faith until she was blown up by freaking wildfire. All were factors way beyond her knowledge or control.
8 Mance Rayder
There may not be noble houses of thrones or monetary wealth north of the Wall, but the Free Folk certainly have politics of their own. For thousands of years, the Free Folk warred with each other when not making subsistence raids into the Seven Kingdoms. Then comes along this former crow Mance. He builds bridges between these diverse and nomadic peoples with the warning that Winter is coming. As King Beyond the Wall, he probably had the biggest fighting force Westeros had seen in centuries -- though not the best trained or equipped.
Biggest Play: Almost overcoming the Wall with a united Wildling army. Never before had virtually all the Free Folk north of the Wall united to overcome the Night’s Watch. They might have succeeded if it weren’t for the extraordinary valor of a few of the Watchers on the Wall, like Jon Snow. They certainly would have succeeded if the fighting had continued.
Biggest Weakness: Standing on principle. It wasn’t like Mance had a lot of options left anyway. When he was captured by Stannis, he evidently decided that staying true to his beliefs and not letting the Free Folk be conscripted was the best way to go. Stannis would not have been kind or even empathetic to the Wildlings like Jon could have, but they might have gotten themselves south of the Wall sooner if Mance had kneeled. We all remember Hardhome.
7 Olenna Tyrell
The Queen of Thorns always has her rapier wit on full display. She seems to enjoy more authority over House Tyrell’s political maneuvers than even her son Mace, the actual Lord of High Garden. We see her trying to get at the truth about Joffrey the very first time we meet her by gently interrogating Sansa. Elsewhere in Season 3 and in Season 4, we see that she’s the only character in the show with the gall and the standing to not only match wits with Tywin, but also tease him about the incestuous ways of his children -- to his face.
Biggest Play: Poisoning Joffrey. Once she learned the truth about Joffrey, she decided that her granddaughter Margaery would have none of that as Queen. She deftly poisoned a gem from the necklace gifted to Sansa and broke it over Joffrey’s wine glass with nary a soul noticing. In doing so, she dealt a major blow to the Lannister’s reputation and set Margaery up with a much softer, more malleable king and husband.
Biggest Weakness: Having to deal with the Lannisters. Olenna is making the best of bad situations throughout the show. And she’s not always as successful in dealing with them as she was with Joffrey. After Tywin’s death, Olenna can’t act fast enough to stop Cersei, who leads the faith to imprison Queen Margaery. Having her entire family incinerated in the Sept has destroyed all the potential for a Tyrell royal family that Olenna had worked towards. Note: siding with Daenerys may soon prove to be her finest political maneuver, likely topping the poisoning of Joffrey when all is said and one.
To rise to the Small Council as a low born foreigner is a remarkable achievement. It’s still somewhat vague exactly how Varys built up such a vast network of spies and contacts, but the extent and efficiency of his influence is undeniable. In the earlier seasons, he keeps the Baratheon and Lannister court informed on the goings on throughout the world. In Season 5 and 6 though, it finally comes to light that much of what Varys has done has been to help or protect Daenerys (for the good of the kingdom). He’s been forced to act against some of his preferred players to keep his own cover, but he’s mitigated the losses when he can. He was also instrumental in bringing the Tyrells and the Martells over to Daenerys' side by the end of Season 6.
Biggest Play: Freeing Tyrion. Up until the end of Season 4, Varys had made a great effort to guide the redeemable characters and sabotage the plans of the more nefarious evildoers. By helping Tyrion escape at the end of Season 4, he directly helped avoid an unjust death and set him on the path to serving Daenerys.
Biggest Weakness: Dealing with prejudice. Varys is a lowborn foreign eunuch. Even though he’s proven valuable and resourceful, he’s still mistrusted by almost everyone at court. He has to play it safe to stay in the Lannister’s good graces, which stopped him from saving fan-favorites like Ned Stark and Ros.
5 Tyrion Lannister
Being the black sheep of House Lannister his whole life gave Tyrion a unique perspective on people and politics in Westeros. He learned how to manipulate people despite being mocked by everyone else and his family, he learned to work against people’s low expectations of him and the value of bribery. When his father entrusted him to act as Hand of the King, he kept effective tabs on all the major players and did his best to reign in Joffrey.
When fate brought him to Meereen, his experience served Daenerys’ interests well. He was able to convince Daenerys he was useful and trustworthy, even though he had come from the family that murdered her cousins and father. He knew how to talk to the Masters more than Daenerys. Once Daenerys had returned to Meereen and secured her forces, she even named Tyrion her Hand.
Biggest Play: Defending King’s Landing. Joffrey and Cersei seemed unwilling to devote much effort to protecting the city from Stannis Baratheon’s massive fleet. As acting Hand of the King, Tyrion laid the wildfire trap and commanded the Lannister forces at the walls and the shore. He was even able to rally the men for a counter attack with a no-nonsense, rousing speech. If it weren’t for his out-of-element efforts, Stannis would have surely taken the city. Instead, Tyrion won the day and kept himself and his family in power.
Biggest Weakness: Wanting to do good. It’s pretty much the big reason Varys saved Tyrion. Though he’s staunchly cynical, he doesn’t resort to violence automatically like his sister, and he’s not as cruel and cold as his father. He just wants everybody to have a good time. Sometimes this lets others take advantage of him, like when Cersei and Joffrey threaten Shae and Sansa. Other times it forces him to make unpleasant or risky decisions, like negotiating with the Masters. But in this cut throat game, a conscience is definitely a liability.
4 Daenerys Targaryen
Viserys was the one who always wanted to restore the Targaryen dynasty. But it was Daenerys who actually cared to learn to converse with and understand the Dothraki, who built a loving relationship with Khal Drogo and made it her mission to fight slavery and injustice. She didn’t have much sense for politics early on though. She was unprepared for how the Masters throughout Essos would try to take advantage of her and her dragons.
Eventually, she did learn to use her dragons as bargaining chips and as powerful weapons. In Meereen, she tested her governing skills and practices in an ancient city built on slavery, learning first hand to make compromises while dealing out harsh justice.
Biggest Play: Sailing for Westeros with all her allied and loyal forces. Daenerys started Season 6 captured by the Dothraki, separated from her armies and her dragons. From there, her ascent was almost like a microcosm of her whole arc in the series thus far. She wins over the Dothraki, gets back her dragons, and takes Meereen back from the clutches of the Masters. Throw in the combined fleet with the Martells, Tyrells and Greyjoys, and it was as good a time as ever to finally take her diversly powerful forces to Westeros.
Biggest Weakness: Idealism. Daenerys’s commitment to abolishing slavery and disdain for conventional politics costs her a lot of time and puts her in a lot of danger. When she takes over Meereen she loses hundreds of Unsullied to the insurgent Sons of the Harpy (and Ser Barristan). It turns out, she massacres some who supported her cause when she summarily crucifies the Masters. She loses a lot of good will from the people when she publicly executes Mossador because she wants to follow the law equally. Daenerys is starting to learn to temper her Targaryen severity, but only by Tyrion’s influence.
3 Tywin Lannister
Not every Patriarch nobleman gets their prodigious political clout immortalized in song and adopted by their whole House. Tywin had ruthlessly won back the fear and respect of the Westerlands and all of Westeros after his father’s misrule. Under his leadership, House Lannister had become the wealthiest and one of the most influential houses in the realm. Tywin himself ended up serving the Mad King, and his two grandsons Joffrey and Tommen as Hand of the King. And effectively running the show for all three of them.
Biggest Play: Orchestrating the Red Wedding. The Lannisters had lost every major battle against the Starks in the War of Five Kings, and Tywin had to deal with plenty of idiocy from his family and subservients. Despite all that, he once again bribed the right people at the right time to lure Robb Stark and his forces into a deadly trap.
Biggest Weakness: Treating his family like pawns. Tywin repeatedly showed that his family were only important to him as players to help strengthen the Lannister position and legacy. All of his children rebelled against him in some way or another. Ultimately, Jaime could not stand by and let Tywin execute Tyrion, and Tyrion couldn’t leave King’s Landing without confronting his father about his cruelty.
2 Cersei Lannister
When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground. Not when you’re playing against Cersei. Cersei was always poised to marry up as the daughter of Tywin Lannister. It’s a wonder Cersei let herself be Robert’s Queen as long as she did. But she didn’t want Eddard Stark to have an old friend in the King when he started poking his nose in Joffrey’s true parentage.
After Robert and Ned were dealt with, she still held sway as Queen Regent, despite Joffrey’s petulance and Margaery angling to become the new actual Queen. Her power base was still ingrained even after Tywin’s death, and it looked as though she was getting even more secure with the High Sparrow as her (initial) ally.
Biggest Play: Firebombing the Sept of Baelor. Up until the end of Season 6, there was always somebody else that Cersei had to answer to. King Robert, Tywin Lannister, her sons, and even her uncle, Kevan Lannister. She was faced with the prospect of answering to Queen Margaery and the High Sparrow in her trial by the Faith. But in one fell swoop, Cersei eliminated all of her rivals. She may not have expected to actually sit the Iron Throne as a result of Tommen committing suicide, but she didn’t miss a beat in doing so. Now all the Lannisters wealth and armies are at her direct disposal, with no one left at court to restrain her -- except possibly her brother.
Biggest Weakness: Hubris and short-sightedness. Cersei has always counted on her status to bend people to her will. For most of her life it has worked (along with a few strategic murders). She obviously expected the same deference from the High Sparrow. But if she assumed that the High Sparrow would turn a blind eye to her own schemes, she was sorely mistaken. If her arrogance hadn't fueled her paranoia about sharing the royal family with the Tyrells, she might not have let the High Sparrow get the better of her and force her on a walk of shame. She also probably should have kept a closer eye on her last surviving child after murdering the woman he loved, but that's Cersei for you.
Mr. “Chaos is a Ladder.” Of all the players we’ve met in the series, Petyr Baelish has risen the farthest without any major setbacks. His family was originally from Braavos, and when they established their House in the Riverlands, Petyr grew close to Catelyn and Lysa as children. A single bitter loss of Catelyn’s hand in a duel with Ned Stark’s older brother sent him on his path towards an unquenchable thirst for wealth and power.
He became such a successful businessman that he was named Master of Coin by King Robert, and selling out Ned Stark landed him major Lordships. For a physically unimpressive son of a brand new house, that’s unheard of. And he’s always avoided any real setbacks by making sure he was never the one caught holding the bag. Not with Ned Stark, not with Joffrey, not with Lysa. If he keeps letting his rivals tear each other down and simpering to royalty at the right time, he may just end up at the top after all.
Biggest Play: Murdering Lysa Arryn. Orchestrating the Purple Wedding might have had bigger consequences for the Seven Kingdoms as a whole, but Littlefinger got his own hands dirty with this one. By killing Lysa after marrying her, he became the effective Lord of the Vale, with an entire army and bounty of resources untouched by the War of Five Kings.
Biggest Weakness: His infatuation with Catelyn and Sansa. One has to wonder how much of Littlefinger’s actions have been towards hoping to win Catelyn or Sansa or just amassing power, or both. He lusts after Catelyn so much that he propositions her just after Ned dies and almost gets knifed for it. He has made a few missteps with being creepily forward with Sansa. When the eldest Stark girl witnessed him throwing Lysa through the Moon Door, it looked as though Sansa might turn him in for a moment. And he totally underestimated Ramsay in thinking that Sansa might have been ready to undermine the Boltons. Even after saving her family and delivering Winterfell to her, Sansa doesn’t trust Littlefinger enough again to work with him.
Agree with our ranking and assesments? Were there other players or plays that have stuck with you throughout the whole show? Let us know in the comments!