In the game of thrones, you win or you die. That's the phrase that has been bandied about on the HBO series Game of Thrones, which finds families pitted against families, nations against nations, as they all vie for sovereignty and rule over the Seven Kingdoms. The dogged pursuit of the Iron Throne has been the most constant storyline throughout the series, which has delved into matters both supernatural and mythical in the process. But all throughout, the human element of man versus man in pursuit of power has reigned supreme.
Game of Thrones may be, at its core, a medieval fantasy that prides itself upon epic battle scenes and as much gore as it can get away with, on a premium cabler like HBO. But at the end of the day, a sharp mind is often a better weapon than the sharpest of swords. Some of the smartest, most successful players in the entire game have not exactly been the most adept of warriors, after all. Here, we take a look back on the ten most intellectually gifted characters in the series, and what they did so well.
10 Lady Olenna Tyrell
When you enlist the legendary actress Dame Diana Rigg to play a role, you know you're about to bear witness to greatness. From the moment that Lady Olenna Tyrell set foot in the world of Game of Thrones, the matriarch of the Tyrell family of Highgarden quickly became one of the series' wittiest and wisest characters all at once. She was a masterful political manipulator, able to see through anyone and everyone in the blink of an eye.
But far and away her most brilliant - and most badass - accomplishment came through levels upon levels of secrecy and plotting. Lady Olenna was responsible for the murder of the cruel King Joffrey, and before her own death, she got to go out on top, smugly informing Jaime, "Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me."
9 Ser Davos Seaworth
Sometimes, the smartest people in the room are not the leaders reigning from their thrones or pedestals, but the people who stand beside them and whisper in their ears. Look no further than everyone's favorite Onion Knight, Ser Davos Seaworth. In his tenure on the series, Davos has acted as advisor to leaders like Stannis Baratheon, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen.
He has moved seamlessly from reign to reign, from leader to leader, and has managed to have a major role in shaping the future of the realm as a result - for better, or worse. Davos is one of the few truly levelheaded people in the entire series, a masterful negotiator and mediator - and so very much more than just the knight of onions.
8 Jaqen H'ghar
A man may be no one. But a man certainly seems to know quite a lot. The enigmatic Faceless Man, servant to the Many-Faced God, that we have come to know as Jaqen H'ghar, has proven time and again that he is one of the wisest characters in the entire series. He seems to know what people are going to do before they even do it, and he certainly understands the way that the world must work in order to preserve the balance of the universe.
Of course, Jaqen's skills are not merely limited to his intellect, as he's quite the gifted assassin and servant of the Many-Faced God. But through Jaqen's wisdom, Arya is able to also become quite the fearless assassin and hero - which might just be the smartest thing he ever did.
7 Cersei Lannister
Whether you love her or loathe her, there's no denying that Cersei Lannister has mastered the game of thrones at this point. Over the course of the series, she has worked her way up from abused and neglected Queen by marriage, to the self-serving Queen Regent, and all the way up to the first Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
All along the way, Cersei has outmaneuvered even the most skilled of opponents, killing anyone who dares to get in her way - or, even smarter, having others do the killing for her, so she never gets her hands dirty. Growing up as the only girl in the Lannister family, and given less of a fair chance than her twin brother, Cersei quickly learned how to outwit the smartest of them all.
6 Sansa Stark
Hard as it may be to believe, the little girl who once wanted nothing more than to marry a prince and become queen one day, has now become one of the smartest people in the entire series. Sansa Stark has endured countless traumas and hardships during her run on the series, but through each trial she has endured, she has learned more of the truth about human nature. She is able to pinpoint people's weaknesses quite easily now, and her judgment calls are seldom wrong - even if they're controversial.
Sansa has had quite a few gifted teachers over the years, including Shae, Margaery Tyrell, Olenna Tyrell, Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, and, of course, none other than the master manipulator himself, Littlefinger. She has learned to become a fierce political animal in the process, and now stands as one of the most worthy players in the game.
5 Bran Stark
While you could potentially discredit his intelligence, seeing as becoming the Three-Eyed Raven basically downloaded the history of Westeros into his brain all at once, there's no denying that Bran Stark has proven himself to be one of the most masterful players in the entire game of thrones in the past two seasons alone. At times, his intelligence can come in the form of a deus ex machina, such as when he's able to trap Littlefinger in his lies, or reveal the truth of Jon's parentage.
But Bran is a bottomless font of information and resources, for anyone who should trust him and seek his counsel. As he has fully become the Raven now, and apparently will continue to be so in the absence of the Night King, Bran is one of the smartest players still remaining in the game - even if he may not be the easiest to talk to.
4 Samwell Tarly
In the early days of the series, poor little Samwell Tarly was looked down upon for his preference for reading books rather than roughhousing with boys and practicing with swords. But time has shown that Sam was wise to pursue his love of literature and records instead, as his near encyclopedic knowledge has come in handy on more than one occasion. Through his position at the Citadel, Sam (and Gilly, too) became aware of the truth about Jon's parentage, a fact that Bran was able to confirm for them as well.
He has also learned how to solve medical mysteries including greyscale due to his voracious appetite for the written word, which allowed him to be an unlikely hero when he saved Ser Jorah Mormont from the disease. Sam may not be a gifted fighter, and he may not be a political master mind either. But when it comes to pure intellect, there are few who could ever hope to be smarter.
3 Tyrion Lannister
Though his status as Hand of King may currently be in doubt, and his success in such a role has certainly been questionable from the start, Tyrion Lannister has consistently been one of the series' wittiest and wisest characters, even if people are quick to mock him. Prone to drinking and snarking, Tyrion's wisdom is often couched behind layers of cynicism and judgment - but the wisdom is there all the same.
Having lived his entire life as the black sheep of the Lannister lion's den, Tyrion has been privy to the most exclusive of political vantage points, learning the ins and outs of the cutthroat world of rulers and learning what not to do as a result of that. Recent seasons have shown his intelligence to be questionable, but at least in the early seasons of the series, Tyrion was one of the smartest, most gifted strategists in all of the Seven Kingdoms.
2 Petyr Baelish
"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder." Those ominous words were spoken years ago by Lord Petyr Baelish in a clandestine conversation with his friendly rival and fellow mastermind Varys - and years later, it turns out that Lord Baelish may just have been right after all. Born into a family with no wealth whatsoever, Littlefinger scraped his way up from the very bottom of the Fingers to become a major player in King's Landing, in Winterfell, in the Vale, and beyond.
While his means were certainly unsavory, there's no way to ignore the fact that he had perhaps the strongest grasp on the selfish nature of humanity, and how pointless it is to try and trust anyone with any stake in the game of thrones. He also knew, therefore, that the notion of the natural order of the realm was as false as anything else people tried to believe in. This world, Littlefinger said, was a world of chaos. And based on how things are shaping up with the series' end approaching, he might have been right all along.
Varys may be one of the shadiest figures in the entire series - both in terms of his penchant for judgment, and his fondness for lurking in the shadows whenever possible. But as one of the longest lasting political figures, who has survived countless dictatorships and reigns and would be reigns alike, Varys might have the keenest sense of intellect of any character in the entire Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
It is Varys, after all, who is the first to question the logic of siding with Daenerys, who seems destined to go down in madness and dragonfire flames like her ancestors before her. It is Varys who is able to look beyond personal investments, and invest instead in the security and progress of the realm at large. Varys is the only player of the game with no real stake in the game itself. And that might just make him the smartest of them all.