Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones up to episode 608
Game of Thrones is a series that features literally the biggest cast in television history, ranging from the heavy-hitters of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to the dearly departed, such as Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), and Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane).
Taken in the aggregate, the show does a remarkable job of balancing all of these various characters, giving each a handful of substantive moments each season. But there is the tendency for a number of these individuals to get lost in the narrative shuffle and to be left out in the metaphorical (or, sometimes, literal!) woods for episodes – or, even, entire seasons – on end.
As we come barreling to the last two installments of the show’s biggest season yet, it’s time to take stock of which individuals have yet to get their full due in the season six sun (particularly considering that episode 609 looks to exclusively focus on Jon Snow). This is our list of the 10 Most Underused Characters In Game Of Thrones.
10 Rickon Stark
The youngest of all five Stark children (sorry, Jon Snow – you and your bastard ways don’t count), Rickon (Art Parkinson) is more of a background element than an actual character with growth, development, or even a personality. But he still has a payoff – his capture by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), the new Warden of the North, and the death of his direwolf, Shaggydog, stand testament to this.
Still, even here, he’s more of a plot device for Jon and Sansa Stark’s (Sophie Turner) arcs than a character of his own. This is, on the one hand, somewhat unavoidable; even author George R.R. Martin barely touches Rickon, and even has him missing for entire novels at a time. But, then again, the writer does this with a lot of his cast, and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have had no problem inserting these other largely MIA characters into Game of Thrones’s narrative – particularly if, as in the case with Robb Stark (Richard Madden) in the second season, they have some major developments coming up.
Here’s to hoping that Rickon will not only get some more screen time, but also some sort of actual growth.
Oh, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) – the bastard blacksmith that has royal blood running through his veins and a storyline that has unceremoniously cut him out of the mix for more than three years now.
In the source material, Gendry suffers the same fate as Rickon – he's a marginal, mostly background player who is left behind with the brotherhood without banners (much like Hot Pie [Ben Hawkey]) and is never seen again, most likely because both his “arc” and his narrative usefulness are both used up. Still, on the small screen, the executive producers opted to make something more of him, utilizing him as the Lady Melisandre’s (Carice van Houten) intended sacrificial offering instead of some third party (of which many populate Martin’s pages) and, therefore, simultaneously giving him an expanded role in the television plot and something of a cliffhanger ending. They’ll need to address this dangling story thread at some point, especially considering that we don’t have much time left now.
Oh, well – at least the fandom has taken this opportunity to endlessly produce a series of funny memes on the subject.
8 The Blackfish
House Tully – that’s the family that Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) was born into – is not a dominant player in the Song of Ice and Fire novels, but it is a constant-and-nonetheless-important force in the regional game of thrones. Riverrun is a castle that King Robb Stark makes his temporary field headquarters in as early as the first book, and its family members all get various levels of development before all hell breaks loose at the Red Wedding.
Given the strict time constraints of a season of television – and, perhaps more importantly, given the budgetary limitations, even on HBO – it’s no surprise that Riverrun, specifically, and the Tullys, generally, were held off on for two long years. The flip side to this, of course, is that when audiences finally get introduced to the likes of Ser Brynden the Blackfish (Clive Russell) and Lord Edmure (Tobias Menzies), they don’t get much time to become familiarized with them – and then they drop off the face of Westeros for the next three years.
Now that the story has nearly come full circle and it’s time to start wrapping up all of these various threads, the Blackfish’s grand return falls a little flat – we can call it the Rickon Syndrome – even if his departure was otherwise well-executed. Perhaps audiences can get to spend more time with Edmure before all is said and done, thereby helping to salvage the Tully situation.
7 Benjen Stark
Yes, Game of Thrones has, by this point, deployed the character of Uncle Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) more than George Martin has hitherto in the novels. But Weiss and Benioff have done so by actually appropriating another character from the page – a mysterious undead figure known only as Coldhands – and given his role (and, apparently, his identity) to the long-lost uncle.
Here’s the story: the former Night’s Watch brother who is dead but never transformed (fully) into a wight comes to save Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) on their trek from Craster’s Keep back to the Wall. Once there, he picks up Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and his company and escorts them to where the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) is hiding out. Along the way, he exposes the characters and the reader to some hidden magic at the Wall and tracks down and murders some of the mutineers who assassinated Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (because, in the books, Jon never left to go on his revenge quest, like he did in the fourth season).
It will be something truly special to see Benjen, a character who has been off-screen for five years(!), get even half of this material to play with throughout the remainder of season six (even if Benioff and Weiss have generally downplayed magic as much as humanly possible in the series).
(Want to learn everything there is to know about the connections between Benjen and Coldhands? Be sure to check out our complete guide.)
Melisandre has one of the most interesting character arcs currently in the series – and that’s saying a lot, given the breadth and depth of the storylines playing out in the sixth season. She started off as an absolute zealot who ended up being almost completely wrong on every front and, as a consequence, losing her faith – only to regain it when almost accidentally performing one of the biggest miracles we’ve seen in a show that features blood magic and fire-breathing dragons: bringing Lord Commander Snow back to life.
Of course, stuffed in the middle of all this is the revelation that she’s some several centuries old and engages in the practice of disguising her real age (and, just possibly, her real identity). This is a most literal manifestation of the series’s overriding concerns with deception and subterfuge and secret identities, and it makes her one of the most interesting characters. Only now, she's been completely MIA for most of the year, after she quietly proclaimed that Jon is the prophesized one who will save mankind from the supernatural vengeance of the White Walkers.
It’s almost literally a crime for her to not have more follow-up – or, for that matter, resolution.
5 Bran Stark
There are few characters in all of Game of Thrones – or A Song of Ice and Fire, for that matter – who present as much of a thorny problem as young Bran Stark. He is, by the very definition of his character, one of the central-most pieces of the overarching plot – he is the glue that can maintain the forces of fire’s cohesion against the encroaching armies of ice, the individual who can tie all of the various strands of the past together with a nice bow in the present to act as a gift to the future. This, obviously, demands a fair amount of screen time and development.
But given the inchoate nature of his powers – and given that training storylines tend to be inherently free of drama, as a general rule of storytelling – there is not much that can be done with Bran until the White Walkers start their invasion of Westeros and the series’ endgame is set into motion. This is even a struggle for George Martin in the more forgiving medium of literature; while he doesn’t have Bran disappear for an entire season, like Weiss and Benioff did last year, the last book only contained three chapters devoted to the future greenseer.
4 Tyrion Lannister
Yes, we’re just as surprised to see Tyrion Lannister on this list as are you – he is arguably the main character of Game of Thrones (well, most of it, at least), and he’s certainly author George R.R. Martin’s favorite character, by far.
But the truth behind everyone’s favorite dwarf is that he has gone entire seasons dominating the storyline (seasons one and two, for instance) and others where he’s barely a player (season four, when he spent nearly the entire year incarcerated and awaiting trial). As strange as it may seem, given that he’s essentially the regent of the slave city of Meereen, season six has proven to be one of these off years for the Imp, barely having him appear in the current collection of episodes – and barely registering when he’s there. (His most memorable moments so far in the sixth season? Freeing the dragons and buying off the supporters of the city’s insurgency. He’s essentially been a non-presence since.)
This development seems to be the by-product of the showrunners’ drastic (and, we think, necessary) streamlining of the Meereenese storyline, stripping out all of the various political factions and subterfuges and leaving only the vague-but-omnipresent Sons of the Harpy as the main throughline. However, now that Queen Daenerys has returned and full-out war has engulfed the city, we imagine Tyrion’s involvement – and dramatic payoff – will immediately expand.
Or, at least, we hope so.
3 Euron Greyjoy
Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Theon’s (Alfie Allen) long-lost uncle who has just been crowned king of the Iron Islands, has the potential to be the most interesting new character this season -- but viewers would never be able to tell by his depiction thus far in the series. On the screen, Euron is ballsy, openly admitting to regicide and fratricide (in the books, there are fewer taboos more feared than the curse of the kinslayer). But he’s actually rather mundane in comparison to his literary counterpart, better known as the Crow’s Eye, who wears an eyepatch over a pure black eye, brandishes blue lips (from drinking too much of the warlocks’ mysterious wine from Qarth), and is quite honestly insane. His exploits are both legendary and infamous: he not only has supposedly visited the desolated remnants of Valyria, the birthplace of the Targaryens, and stole some magical treasures from there, but also just may, if the hints in the books are to be believed, have committed physical and sexual abuse on his siblings while they were all adolescents.
Asbæk has done an admirable job portraying one of the most out-there characters from the text yet, but he has a long way to go before he even scratches the surface of the Crow’s Eye. Here’s to hoping that viewers will get to see more of Euron’s personality be tapped – and get to see more of the new king, generally, as well.
Of all of Game of Thrones’s many, many story threads and character arcs, there are only two individuals who stand at the middle of the narrative storm, attempting to engineer the various developments – and then continue to manipulate them for maximum political and personal gain afterwards. One of these characters, Lord Varys the Spider (Conleth Hill), gets a fair amount of screen time, thanks in no small part to his partnership with Tyrion Lannister; the other, Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), has no such luck, being relegated to, essentially, a bit part over the course of the past two or three years.
This needs to change, and quick; not only does he play an outsized role in the series’s mythology, he also is taking on the largest public role in the charade yet, presumably priming him for his long-awaited denouncement, whatever that may be (king of the Seven Kingdoms? Social pariah? Murder victim?). Given that the War of the Five Kings was, essentially, all his own doing, the ramifications for his actions need to be addressed, and in no uncertain way. Indeed, this is one of the most critical elements that needs to be tackled in the story’s home stretch.
1 Dorne – yes, all of it
Oh, Dorne – one of Game of Thrones’s few out-and-out misses, a storyline that was shorn of much of its on-the-page material (though a move that, in and of itself, isn’t inherently misguided, given the relative setup-to-payoff ratio and the amount of other tweaking Weiss and Benioff have applied to the other A Feast for Crows/A Dance with Dragons throughlines). Even worse, its replacement on the show has largely proven to be, politely speaking, subpar – a combination of hackneyed plots, amateurish action scenes, and meme-worthy dialogue (see nearly anything that Tyene Sand [Rosabell Laurenti Sellers] says, particularly to Bronn [Jerome Flynn]).
There are a few redeeming features to this otherwise-ruined plot – seeing Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Ser Bronn together almost always results in pure gold – but the out-of-nowhere turn of Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) assassinating Prince Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) can go in either direction, being equally redemptive or disastrous. The fact that we haven’t seen anyone from Dorne at all since the sixth-season premiere, however, doesn’t bode well at all.
Think there’s a better contender for most tragically underused character so far this season? Is there enough time left to salvage some of these narrative situations? Let us know in the comments.