In a series based on the premise of endless war and battles for power like HBO's Game of Thrones, shocking betrayals are pretty much a guarantee. Whether the betrayals occur on the battlefield, in the heat of conflict, or in the privacy of a bedroom, these shocking turns of events lead to some of the series' most emotionally compelling and attention-grabbing stories. Certain betrayals seem almost completely telegraphed from the very beginning, and therefore don't come as much of a surprise to even the most casual viewer.
But some acts of betrayal - whether threats, abandonment, or murder itself - come as total surprises not only to the viewers, but the foolishly trusting characters themselves. Over the course of eight seasons, virtually hundreds of betrayals took place, all in the name of the pursuit of power. Here, we take a look back at the ten most shocking moments of betrayal in the series.
10 Littlefinger betrays Ned to the Lannisters
As the series progressed, it quickly became clear that Aidan Gillen's Petyr Baelish, also known as Littlefinger, was one of the most politically savvy players in the entire game of thrones. He knew how to turn people against each other, and manipulate any situation to his advantage. But his first act of betrayal at the end of the first season came as a real shock.
Following Robert's death, and Ned's learning that Joffrey was not, in fact, his rightful heir, Ned worked to secure the Iron Throne for the rightful heir, with himself serving as King Regent, per Robert's request. In his attempts to accomplish this, Ned confided in Littlefinger of all people, who at the time seemed trustworthy enough. All of that would change, however, when Petyr turned on Ned, holding him at knifepoint in the throne room, and noting, "I did warn you not to trust me."
9 Varys commits treason against Daenerys for the realm
Game of Thrones' eighth and final season was incredibly polarizing among fans, particularly in the last few episodes, which found Daenerys abruptly descending into madness. As a consequence of the realization of her possible madness, and upon learning that she wasn't, in fact, the rightful heir, Varys, one of her longtime advisors, conspired against her.
Varys was always open about the fact that he served the Realm and not any particular leader. He was a smooth political operator who would do whatever it took to survive. After learning of Jon's true identity as Aegon Targaryen, Varys shared the information far and wide through scrolls, and even planned to poison the queen himself with the aid of one of his little birds. But Daenerys quickly learned of his betrayal and burned him alive for his crimes.
8 Jaime abandons the North (and Brienne)
For much of Game of Thrones' run, it really seemed like Ser Jaime Lannister was destined for a redemption arc. He began the series as a truly loathsome person, selfish and engaging in incest with his likewise hateful twin sister, Cersei. Over time, however, he began to grow and change, showing that he cared about other people than himself and his sister, and working toward the greater good.
At the end of the seventh season, he even abandoned Cersei, at last, to ride North to Winterfell and take part in the battle against the Night King and his Army of the Dead. He fought in the war, and afterward, consummated his long emotionally fraught relationship with Brienne of Tarth. But soon after allowing himself this moment of growth and happiness, Jaime reverted to his hateful past, leaving Brienne and the North to return to die by his sister's side in King's Landing.
7 Jorah is revealed to have spied on Daenerys
Ser Jorah Mormont would, in time, become one of the most honorable characters in the entirety of Game of Thrones, fiercely loyal to his Queen until the moment of his death. But one of the series' most emotional twists came when Daenerys finally learned the truth of Jorah's original allegiances. As viewers had been aware of, Jorah once served as a spy against Daenerys on behalf of King Robert Baratheon.
In the years following Robert's death, however, Jorah truly became a true believer in Daenerys, and even fell in love with her. But Daenerys would not be moved by any of Jorah's emotion-based pleas, turning a stony face and banishing him from Mereen for his past betrayal.
6 Joffrey calls for Ned's execution, defying the plan
King Joffrey would eventually become one of the most loathsome characters in the entire series of Game of Thrones, and undoubtedly one of the most violent and unqualified rulers, too. But one of the first decisions he made after his sudden ascension to the throne came as a real shock. After Ned Stark was accused of treason for perceived attempts to steal the throne for himself, it was agreed upon that he would be sent to the Wall to serve the rest of his life there for his crimes.
But when Ned was brought before the public for sentencing, Joffrey changed the plans on a whim, instead calling for Ned Stark's head. The shocking execution served as the first example of Game of Thrones letting viewers know that no one would ever be considered safe in this show.
5 Theon betrays the Starks and sacks Winterfell
Theon Greyjoy is one of the most complex characters in the entirety of Game of Thrones. Regardless of how you feel about him at any point during the series' run, there's no way to avoid the shock and pain that comes with his second season arc. Theon, once loyal to but also a prisoner of House Stark, returns with the army of House Greyjoy and seizes Winterfell for the Iron Islands, forcefully sacking the Northern stronghold.
He kills beloved Northerners like Ser Rodrik Cassel, and allows others to think he had murdered young Starks Bran and Rickon. But perhaps the most hurtful part of this entire arc comes when a bedridden Bran asks Theon, "Did you hate us the whole time?" By series' end, it's clear that this couldn't be further from the truth. But in the moment, it makes the betrayal hurt that much more.
4 Shae falsely testifies against Tyrion
The romance between Tyrion Lannister and onetime prostitute Shae served as one of the major romances in the series' first few seasons. But due to Tyrion's being framed for the murder of Joffrey, their relationship came to a sudden and painful end, when Tyrion insulted Shae and sent her away in order to keep her safe. This plan was never something that Shae was privy to knowing, however, which in turn led to her own shocking betrayal.
Shae returned to King's Landing just in time for Tyrion's official trial. She falsely testifed against him during the trial, claiming that he and Sansa had planned and conspired against Joffrey and orchestrated his murder. Making matters worse, Shae was intimate with Tyrion's own father, Tywin. Hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.
3 The Night's Watch betrays and kills their Lord Commander
Game of Thrones is a show where no character was ever truly safe. Characters were killed left and right, regardless of their level of importance. But no death was more shocking than the decision to kill off the series' essential protagonist, Jon Snow, to end the series' fifth season. While that was shocking enough for a decision for the series as a whole, the manner in which Jon was killed was what made it all the more shocking and upsetting.
As the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon was alternately revered and loathed by the men who served under him. It was this incredibly divided sentiment that led to a mutiny against Lord Snow by many of his men, including Ser Alliser Thorne and the young Olly, each of whom stabbed Jon to death "for the Watch" and left him to bleed out in the snow.
2 Jon betrays and kills his Queen
As soon as it became clear that Game of Thrones was committing to the fact that Daenerys went the way of the Mad Targaryen bloodline, there was really only one outcome for her character, as difficult to watch as it may have been. Once the show began to frame Daenerys as a dictator and a threat, more than a liberator and an inspirational leader, it was obvious that she would be killed. And with only a few episodes left to wrap it all up, it was clear it was coming, and soon.
But the way in which Daenerys was written out officially was truly shocking, to Daenerys herself and longtime fans everywhere. After pledging his loyalty to the Queen he chose and pledged himself to time and again, Jon Snow kissed his Queen - and then stabbed her directly in the heart, killing her instantly.
1 The Red Wedding
No act of betrayal was more shocking, more heartbreaking, and more totally grotesque than the third season's Red Wedding. After Robb Stark betrayed the promise to House Frey that he would marry one of Walder Frey's daughters, it was inevitable that there would be fallout. But the revenge Frey took against the Starks was unimaginable.
Following the wedding of Edmure Tully to one of the daughters of Walder Frey, House Frey and House Bolton turned against House Stark, allying with the Lannisters and enacting the murders of Robb Stark, Talisa Stark, Catelyn Stark, and countless House Stark bannermen. The fateful event would fundamentally change the course of the series, and provide fans everywhere with a truly emotional viewing experience.