HBO's Game of Thrones took the fantasy genre to a whole new level, imbuing familiar characters and tropes with a level of Shakespearean seriousness - and, of course, pay cable levels of adult content. Along the way, though, the series routinely proved that it wasn't only the best in the game at crafting complex stories with compelling characters. It was also the best at breaking your heart when you least expected it to.
Over the course of its historic eight-season run, Game of Thrones killed more characters than could truly be counted - characters both major and minor, named and unnamed, familiar and unknown. But some of its most important deaths also happened to be the most depressing moments throughout the entire series. Here, we take a look back at ten of the most tragic deaths that we'll never get over.
Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister was always unlucky in love. After a truly harrowing experience in his adolescent years, when he was set up to believe a woman loved him only to learn that she was a hired prostitute, Tyrion nevertheless finally opened himself up to the prospect of love again years later (once again with a prostitute). Shae was one of the series' most hotly-debated characters during her time on the series, in large part due to the way she differed from her book counterpart.
Unlike in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Shae truly fell deeply in love with Tyrion, and as such, she was utterly devastated by his perceived betrayal when he forced her to leave King's Landing. So, when Shae returns to betray him by falsely testifying against him during his murder trial, it's depressing enough. Add the ensuing conflict when Tyrion finds her in his father's bed, and the two engage in a physical struggle until he is forced to strangle her to death, and it's just downright heartbreaking.
Sometimes, you don't have to know a character very well to be truly broken down by the loss of them. Myrcella Baratheon was perhaps the least-developed of the three children of twins and lovers Cersei and Jaime Lannister. While we got to know their two sons Joffrey and Tommen all too well, Myrcella was always a sweet enigma, a princess promised into a marriage with the prince of Dorne. She was never anything but pleasant, sweet, and bright.
That made her cruel murder at the hands of the loathsome Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes all the more cruel. While returning to King's Landing with her father, Jaime (and with the two having just openly discussed the nature of her lineage), Myrcella began bleeding profusely without any explanation, resulting in her sudden death in her hysterical father's arms.
Few characters were as loyal to House Stark, and to the children of House Stark, than the kindly old Maester Luwin. Throughout the series' first two seasons, he's a faithful advisor to both young Bran and Rickon in particular, serving as their true teacher of history and life. He's also one of the few characters to be able to reason with Theon Greyjoy, following his betrayal and descent into darkness.
But at the end of the second season, the selfless Maester Luwin meets a tragic end. When Theon is betrayed by his own men, Maester Luwin tries to protect him, only to be mortally wounded as a result. In his dying moments, a returning Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor manage to find him, exchanging meaningful words and consoling one another. With his dying words, Maester Luwin once again reaffirms his poignant love for the Starks: "I pulled you into the world. Both of you. I've seen both of your faces almost every day since. And for that, I consider myself very, very lucky."
When we first meet the incredibly eloquent, beautiful, and kind Missandei of Naath, she is a slave, forced to serve as a translator for the odious slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz. Missandei's life totally changed when she was rescued from slavery by Daenerys Targaryen, who then enlisted Missandei as her personal handmaiden, trusted confidant, valued advisor, translator, and dear friend. Over time, Missandei would also fall in love with the once fearless leader of the Unsullied, Grey Worm.
As the series approached its conclusion, Missandei found herself forced into increasingly unenviable situations, subjected to judgment from racist Northerners and forced to defend her very existence at every turn. But worst of all was the manner in which she met her untimely end. Once again bound in chains, Missandei was unceremoniously beheaded - for no other reason than to compel Daenerys' descent into madness.
There aren't very many characters in the entirety of Game of Thrones who could be described as wholly pure and good people. Shireen Baratheon falls into that very small group. The daughter of the cold and cruel Stannis Baratheon, Shireen was afflicted with greyscale from a very young age and forced to live her life in isolation. She struck up a heart-warming connection with Ser Davos Seaworth, even teaching the old Onion Knight how to read.
And then, just as it seemed like the would be princess might escape her father's delusions of grandeur unscathed, Melisandre commanded that the Lord of Light needed the sacrifice of royal blood. Shireen was burned savagely at the stake, an act that then spurred her mother to commit suicide, and soon led to Stannis' downfall as well.
Speaking of characters who truly deserved better and never did a single thing wrong in their entire lives, we have to talk about Hodor. As the faithful, sweet giant who served as Bran's main protector (along with Osha) for the series' first six seasons, Hodor was just about as loyal as characters could get in a world driven by the desire for power and revenge. For his entire run, viewers were left to wonder why it was that he only ever said "Hodor."
Little did they know just how harrowing the reveal of the answer would be. Through Bran's travels into the past with the Three-Eyed Raven's guidance, he inadvertently encountered a young Hodor - then known as Wylis - and addled his mind, traumatizing him for life. While the present day Hodor fought tooth and nail to "Hold the door" and save Bran and Meera's lives, poor Wylis was left to endure the whole harrowing experience of his death, decades before it would actually occur.
Catelyn Stark may have been born as a fish of House Tully, but few ever embodied the spirit of the wolves of House Stark the way this fierce mother did. From day one, Catelyn was fiercely protective of her children, unabashedly independent and vocal, and willing to do whatever it took to keep her family safe, even if it meant shedding blood and starting wars. She was in large part responsible for the first trial of Tyrion Lannister, the capture (and release) of Ser Jaime Lannister, and the brokering of treaties with Houses Bolton and Frey.
It would be that last decision in particular, however, that would come to have truly devastating consequences. After her eldest son, Robb, foolishly married for love and disobeyed the arranged marriage he had been promised into, the Freys and Boltons allied together, along with the Lannisters, to take revenge against the Starks once and for all. What followed was the bloodbath known as the Red Wedding, culminating in Catelyn's utterly horrific scream of devastation and her grim death by throat slitting.
From his very introduction in the series, Ser Jorah Mormont was loyal to one person and one person only: the woman he believed to be the rightful queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Daenerys Targaryen. While his motives were questionable at first (due to a deal made with King Robert Baratheon at the time), Jorah would prove the true nature of his loyalty - and love - time and again, serving as Daenerys' dearest friend and most trusted and faithful advisor and confidant.
After defying death over and over again to remain by her side, Ser Jorah Mormont finally tragically lost his life the only way a character of his kind could: sacrificing himself to protect his queen. During the Battle of Winterfell, Jorah met his end by fighting harder than he ever had in his life against the Army of the Dead, taking every fierce blow meant for Daenerys and dying in her arms once the battle was done.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. These facts are known and repeated often in discussions of history, both real and Westerosi. Daenerys Targaryen started the series as a young girl, wide-eyed and full of hope that she would return home one day. Daenerys Targaryen ended the series as a Mad Queen, so fully detached from reality that she couldn't even begin to see the error of her ways. Her descent into madness, in conjunction with her sudden ascent to power, left a bad taste in the mouth of many viewers during the final season.
But nothing was more devastating than the way in which the series saw fit to bring her story to a close. With truly no one on her side any longer, besides her lone remaining dragon, Daenerys still hoped that Jon Snow could love her the way she loved him. After the pair of lover-relatives professed their feelings for one another, it seemed like this might be the case - only for Jon to surprise her by stabbing her straight through the heart with a dagger, ending the song of ice and fire once and for all.
The loss of Ned Stark was the loss that had the longest-lasting effects on the entire series. Ned was one of the series' first truly good men, an idealistic man who wanted to believe in the power of good people to rule and rule well. As the first Hand of the King, it was Ned's responsibility to clean up the messes of the Baratheons and Lannisters - but in cleaning up their endless messes, he uncovered the shocking secrets that would lead to his own demise.
Few scenes are more harrowing than the scene in which Ned is executed. But in a rare break from eventual convention for Game of Thrones, Ned's death is one of the least graphic in the entire series. We never see him beheaded. Instead, we see the effect it has on others - namely, Arya, who watches in wide-eyed abject horror, and Sansa, who faints in her emotional distress. The killing of Ned Stark was what truly escalated the series' central conflict to the next level. When the series killed Ned, it lost one of the best men it ever had - but it became a much stronger series, all the same.