For the entirety of its eight-season run, HBO's Game of Thrones was always as exciting as it was shocking, as expectation-subverting as it was fanservice-providing. While its earlier seasons were more or less faithful to the existing books in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, the later years -far more polarizing than their predecessors- have relied upon the creative minds behind the television adaptation, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
For better or worse, the series was forced to continue on without Martin's canon to refer to, though his position as an advisor to the series nevertheless implies that he had some role in crafting its many characters' fates. With the television adaptation of the masterful novels now having come to an end, it's the perfect time to look back at the character arcs that were most successfully executed -and those that were just plain disappointing. Thankfully (or not), there are plenty of both. Naturally, there will be spoilers throughout, so watch out!
10 Loved: The Hound
Sandor Clegane, better known by the colorful moniker the Hound, was a character who lived his life almost wholly driven by revenge and bloodlust. More violent than almost any other character in the series, he was a fearsome foe to anyone who dared be on his list of enemies - which was, really, almost anyone who crossed paths with him. Over time, however, the Hound began to show the smallest signs of softness, in his relationships with the Stark girls, Sansa and Arya.
The quasi father-daughter bonding between trained killers Sandor and Arya still stands as one of the best things the series ever explored. But it was Sandor's final acts - in telling Arya not to live a life of revenge, and finally enacting a fatal form of vengeance against his monstrous older brother Gregor, the Mountain - that sealed The Hound's status as one of the series' most perfectly-handled characters.
9 Disappointing: The Night King
The Night King was once a truly fearsome threat. The leader of the monstrous Army of the Dead, the Night King was the mystical villain that served as the series' true threat. Or so we were led to believe. For seasons, the Night King's role was teased as one of significance. He was the ultimate nemesis of the Three-Eyed Raven throughout history, and his eerie connection with Bran himself resulted in the latter being marked for life.
It was also heavily suggested that Jon Snow would be the one to dispatch the Night King in the battle to end all battles. The confrontation between the Living and the Dead would be the war to end all wars. And then... Jon didn't. And then... it wasn't. Nothing about the Night King's arc lived up to the hype. At this point, we're not sure why he existed at all.
8 Loved: Theon Greyjoy
Few characters can lay claim to as impressive a character arc - and a redemption arc - as the misunderstood Theon Greyjoy. At the very beginning of the series, Theon is a spoiled, sexist, vulgar young man, a prisoner of House Stark who nonetheless takes the liberties of every entitled person of wealth for himself. He then goes on to betray the family that raised him, sacking Winterfell and killing members of House Stark's men and allowing them to think he had killed both Bran and Rickon.
Afterward, he was taken captive and tortured both physically and mentally for years on end by the most sadistic of them all, Ramsay Bolton. He eventually broke free of his captors, aiding in Sansa's escape, and once again pledging his loyalty to House Stark. He died valiantly fighting to protect Bran from the Night King, receiving perhaps one of the most heroic deaths of them all.
7 Disappointing: Tyrion Lannister
Tyrion Lannister was once the smartest man in all of the Seven Kingdoms. At least, he was before he became Daenerys Targaryen's Hand of the Queen. In the earliest seasons of the series, Tyrion's wit was unmatched. He served as a fair and temperate Hand of the King to the truly evil King Joffrey, managing to keep the kingdom in order even while Joffrey's evil knew no bounds. He fought in the Battle of Blackwater, loved and lost Shae, and enacted satisfying revenge against his truly odious father Tywin.
But as soon as Tyrion began to serve as Hand of the Queen, he seemed to lose all common sense. It's hard to think of a good decision that Tyrion made during his entire tenure in that role. When it came time for him to betray Daenerys, free his brother, and eventually abandon his post, it wasn't entirely unwelcome. It was nice to see Tyrion regain his wits in the series finale, playing a pivotal role as he did. But it was too little, too late in many ways.
6 Loved: Ser Jorah Mormont
You'd be hard pressed to find a character more fully loyal than Ser Jorah Mormont. Despite a shadowy past involving a wealthy and cheating wife, attempts to sell raiders into slavery, and serving as a spy within Daenerys' camp on behalf of King Robert Baratheon, Ser Jorah was always fair and acting in favor of the greatest good. Although his love for her was unrequited, Jorah never held anything against her, nor did he ever expect anything from her in return.
He defied certain death to return to her, finding a cure with Samwell Tarly for the unenviable fate of greyscale. He served as a counsel to her in her greatest times of struggle and temptation, proving that any leader is nothing without a reasonable advisor by their side. And he gave his life heroically to save his one and only Queen, sacrificing his life for the woman he loved during the Long Night.
5 Disappointing: Jon Snow
Once upon a time, Jon Snow was the hero of this story, the protagonist of the series, and someone worth rooting for and caring about. Somewhere around Season Seven and Eight, however, all of that changed. At the start of the series, Jon Snow was Ned Stark's bastard, a true underdog who worked his way up from simple squire to Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. He embodied the best of humanity in the worst of all possible situations, brokering peace between the Wildlings and the Northerners.
And then everything went absolutely downhill. The series' eighth and final season truly featured Jon at his most useless. The reveal of his heritage amounted to absolutely nothing. We never even truly learned his reaction to it. The most he ever did in the season came in its final episode, when he mercifully killed the now-mad Daenerys, before once again returning to the Wall - bringing his apparently useless arc full circle.
4 Loved: Sansa Stark
From day one, Sansa Stark wanted nothing more than to be queen someday. But the idealistic, hopeful Sansa we met in the series' first episode could never have imagined the path she would have to travel to arrive there one day. For years, she was trapped in King's Landing, first as the fianceé of the hateful King Joffrey, and then as the unsuspecting and non-consenting wife of Tyrion Lannister. After escaping King's Landing with the help of Littlefinger, she was sold into marriage with and assaulted by Ramsay Bolton.
But from then on, she proved that she was one of the smartest players in the entire game. She won the Battle of the Bastards when the knights of the Vale rode to save her. She served as the true power in Winterfell after Jon ran away to Dragonstone to try and reason with the Dragon Queen. She stoked the fires of dissent in the North, and in Daenerys' own camp when it became clear that Jon was the rightful heir and Daenerys wasn't fit to lead. In the end, she secured what she wanted all along: Northern independence, and the title of Queen in the North.
3 Disappointing: Jaime Lannister
If Theon Greyjoy is the textbook example of how a redemption arc is done right, then, sadly, Ser Jaime Lannister is the textbook example of how a redemption arc is done right and then absolutely squandered at the very last minute. At the beginning of the series, Jaime was a hateful person, engaging openly in incest with his twin sister and pushing the poor, defenseless young Bran Stark from a castle window. Over time, he endured loss and growth, a large part of which came through his bond with Brienne of Tarth and after the loss of his fighting hand.
He reshaped himself as a new man, began to question his mad sister's logic, and eventually, rode North to fight for the living and against the dead. It seemed as though Jaime had put the toxic life of Lannisters behind him, choosing to reside in Winterfell with the brother he always loved, the woman he deserved, and the friends and family he had now fought for and chosen. But then, at the eleventh hour, Jaime threw it all away, riding back to King's Landing to die with Cersei. Because logic, we guess.
2 Loved: Arya Stark
As soon as we met little Arya Stark in the series' first season, it was clear that this little spitfire tomboy was destined for great things. She learned to become a fierce fighter and assassin from some of the series' most gifted teachers - Syrio Forel, Jaqen H'ghar, Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion, and Ser Brienne of Tarth.
She proved time and again that she was the hero we all needed and the hero we all deserved, exacting revenge for the wrong done to her family and killing monstrous people left and right. In the end, she would wind up being Azor Ahai herself - the princess who was promised, bringing an end to the Long Night when she killed the Night King. As the series came to an end, Arya was doing what she was always meant to do: seeking more, as she set off to travel beyond Westeros, where no one had ever been before.
1 Disappointing: Daenerys Targaryen
It's hard to reconcile the innocent, wide-eyed girl Daenerys Targaryen once was with the monster that the series made her become in the end. The girl who once never wanted to be queen somehow became the Mad Queen in the end, fulfilling the series' need to show that biology overcomes everything - at least as long as you're a Targaryen. For most of the series' run, Daenerys was a fair and just leader, seeking to liberate those in need of saving - even if her means were often more violent than most.
But the Dragon Queen's thirst for fire and blood won out in the end, as she truly embraced her madness during the Battle for King's Landing, slaughtering innocents by the hundreds even after the bells of surrender had rung. When Jon Snow kills her in the throne room in the series finale, it's almost a mercy. At least her character couldn't be ruined any further after that.