It's been almost a decade since the exciting premiere of Game of Thrones back in 2011. In that first episode, we were introduced to two houses that represented the best and worst of Westeros: the noble House Stark, and the conniving House Lannister. To the casual viewer, the characters in those houses would have initially been seen as very good and very sinister (obviously), but over the course of soon-to-be eight seasons, watchers learned what fans of George R.R. Martin's novels had known for years already: nothing is black and white.
One of the reasons why this fantasy series is so compelling is because each character is so human (some more so than others), which means none of them are perfect, no matter how noble they try to be. We're going to go through the considerably large cast of Game of Thrones, selecting only those who are relatively compassionate, virtuous, and who have known some amount of significant power or influence (be it through intellect or strength) in order to determine which characters are strong and wise enough to be truly noble amidst the corruption of both Westeros and Essos. We will, of course, be taking into account how drastically they've changed (if at all) as sometimes, redemption makes for a more heroic character over one that can't or won't change.
30 HIGH SPARROW
Do not be fooled by the facade of humility and gentility the High Sparrow seemed to radiate, especially when Cersei first met him around the poor and downtrodden of King's Landing. The leader of the Sparrows is no less ambitious as any other figure in Westeros. The only difference is that he isn't driven by greed, but a genuine belief that worship of the Seven will lead King's Landing aright.
He didn't mind the actual chaos that was being put forth, in fact at times, it would seem he demanded it. He's a fanatic, and as such, is unsurprisingly narrow-minded. That was all enough to earn him the ire of Cersei, which was the last mistake he'd ever make. He made it on the list for the simple fact that there were times when, in his view, he was being genuinely compassionate. We can't ignore that, no matter how much we disagree.
Because of his brutish charm and cynical wit, fans have taken a liking to this mercenary. We first met Bronn when he came to Tyrion's defense at the Eyrie, when Lysa Arryn threatened to have him thrown through the Moon Door. Since then, he's remained relatively loyal to the Lannisters for no reason other than their wealth.
Bronn took good care of Tyrion, helped Jaime learn to handle a sword again, and saved the latter's life, so he earns some points for that. Unfortunately, we can't forget that at the end of the day, though he seems to keep himself close to the more noble members of the House Lannister, Bronn's allegiance is to cold coin and the promise of a castle.
Qyburn has proven himself more knowledgeable and more resourceful than any maester of the Citadel, which is precisely why Cersei seems to trust him more than anyone else around her. Unlike many of the other cold or brutish people who fill the Red Keep, Qyburn is surprisingly gentle and calm, and he seems more interested in science/discovery as opposed to politics or power.
Although we never really see him interact with anyone from the opposing families, judging by how quickly and devotedly he tended to Jaime's injuries, Qyburn seems more than willing to heal whoever is in need, no matter where they're from or who they are, as if perhaps he was living by the Westeros version of the Hippocratic Oath. He might be on the wrong side of the war, but he seems to be a relatively good person.
27 THEON GREYJOY
The last son of Balon Greyjoy has led a complicated life. Balon surrendered Theon to the Starks as assurance that he would never rebel again, which would have been traumatic enough, even if the Starks ended up treating him almost like a member of the family. Clearly, it left him with a conflict of belonging that led to his betrayal of Robb and to the elimination of two innocent peasant boys.
He did pay the price for it at the hands of Ramsay Snow, and while the physical and psychological torment he went through left him battered and weak, it also set him on a path toward redemption. He ended up fighting through his fear of Ramsay in order to save Sansa from a captured Winterfell, and though he fled from Euron Greyjoy when his sister was captured, he fought to persuade the Ironborn to launch a rescue mission. He hasn't yet redeemed himself enough to be truly heroic, but he's on his way.
26 STANNIS BARATHEON
We'll acknowledge that Stannis was the Baratheon that Ned Stark chose to support when Robert passed away as there must have been a good reason for it. Unfortunately, throughout the series, all we see is a cold and almost heartless soldier; another man with an army looking to take the throne in the War of the Five Kings.
He was driven by his belief that the throne was his by right and he was willing to do anything to get it, including allying himself with a witch and sacrificing his own daughter, Shireen, the only person in his life for which he seemed to feel any genuine affection. He was a powerful leader and seemed as though he was Westeros' best chance at defeating the Lannisters, which is why fans loved him. But in the end, he proved to be more akin to the other power-hungry leaders.
Sometimes, placing your trust in something or someone means stepping into some dark places and having faith that it'll be alright, which was exactly what Melisandre has done throughout the entire series. She commits seemingly nefarious acts all in the name of her god, the Lord of Light, whom evidently, demands sacrifices by fire in exchange for a variety of arcane powers.
The fact that Melisandre can resurrect those who have passed, birth creatures made of shadow, and see into the future should be proof enough for everyone that perhaps it's R'hllor and not Melisandre that's wicked, from our perspective anyway. She does seem to express some amount of regret when she realizes that the sacrifice of Shireen proved to be fruitless. She may not be an entirely good person at heart, but she's far from being sinister. After all, she sees the larger picture and does seem to fight wholeheartedly to save Westeros from the Night King.
24 DAARIO NAHARIS
Everything Daario does is for Daenerys, or more specifically, her beauty. He's a romantic, not so much in the sense that he's able to make his lover's heart flutter (though he was clearly capable of doing just that), but in the way that he romanticizes both beauty and violence to the extent that he constantly chases after both and adheres to a code of honor built around those two aspects of life.
If it weren't for Daenerys, there's almost no doubt that he would still ride with the Second Sons, completely ignoring the slaves and corrupt citizens of Slaver's Bay, and happily at that. Daario is charming and he does occasionally display some amount of compassion and decency, but is he really a good man or a hero? Only by association.
23 YARA GREYJOY
The Iron Islands have no room for the soft-hearted. It's no wonder Yara ranks among the least heroic. Make no mistake, she's courageous and she cares for her family, but only to a point. She led a small unit of Ironborn to the Dreadfort to rescue Theon from captivity, only to abandon her brother after a short fight. Still, in the end, she supported him and inspired him to act out of courage, which is how he ended up gaining respect from the Ironborn after the loss of the Iron Fleet.
As inspiring as she may be, she's not a hero. Even if we ignore the countless acts of violence she is implied to have committed as leader of the Ironborn, she only fights for glory and a crown. There's no real nobility in the pursuit of either of those things.
22 ARYA STARK
From a very young age, Arya has been thrown around the continents, fleeing enemies, and acquiring new skills, but her journey isn't about trying to free anyone or restore order, it's to avenge her family and her friends. That being said, prior to entering the House of Black and White, Arya was notably kind to the people around her, even people like Hot Pie, who threatened her when they first met.
She was never worried of standing up to the wicked around her, whether it was Prince Joffrey at The Inn at the Crossroads or the Hound. That courage may still be there, but she seems to be far colder, which is understandable, since she's focusing on taking a whole list-worth of lives; however, it's also somewhat tragic and it does mean that on the spectrum of good and bad, she seems to wander closer and closer toward the middle.
21 OBERYN MARTELL
The Prince of Dorne was able to lead a hedonistic life. He enjoyed the people and things around him in every way they could be enjoyed and he could do it because of his skill in combat and the power behind his name, but pleasure itself wasn't enough. He needed to avenge his sister, who was severely mistreated by the Mountain, along with her children. Other than the people responsible, he didn't seem too concerned with the political figures or events in Westeros.
He didn't judge anyone for their tastes, their views, or their appearances. In fact, he seemed almost repulsed when thinking back to Cersei's words when describing baby Tyrion. That respect for others is admirable in itself, but it's not enough to make him a real hero, neither is the fact that he fought for Tyrion, since it could be argued that he did so mainly in pursuit of his own desires. He's a fan favorite and with good reason, but when measuring heroics, he falls short since he didn't fight for the realm or even to save lives.
20 JORAH MORMONT
From the very beginning, Jorah seemed to be enthralled by Daenerys. He fought for her, saved her life, and stayed by her side out of love for her. He showed a few virtues, strength being one of them, but he didn't really show any kind of true compassion or virtue until he was exiled from Meereen after his deal with Varys had been discovered. He captured Tyrion Lannister to get back on Dany's good graces and their journey together uncovered a lot of Jorah's true character.
His treatment of Tyrion proved that, although he's incredibly focused on his goals, he does respect the people around him and is capable of acting with nobility and some level of honor for no other reason than that it's right; it's why Daenerys trusted him to advise her over the years. Despite his apparent detachment, he and Dany want the same thing for Westeros and Slaver's Bay.
19 THE HOUND
At a glance, it would appear that Sandor Clegane hasn't changed all that much since the first season, but don't be fooled by appearances. It's true that he's still bitter and cynical and that he's more than willing to violently take a life, but he has changed in some ways. Although there were hints of goodness here and there from the beginning, his growth really only began when he abandoned the King and King's Landing during the Battle of the Blackwater and offered to take Sansa with him to freedom.
He may not have been able to help Sansa, but he saved Arya's life and ended up being her protector, despite his initial intentions to essentially ransom her to her family. Over the last two seasons at least, the Hound has been slowly wandering toward redemption by fighting alongside the Brotherhood Without Banners for a truly good cause, even if he doesn't fully share their beliefs.
18 SANSA STARK
The eldest Stark child has matured and learned a lot since the first season. Where once she dreamed of living like a proper lady in the romanticized marriage she'd fantasized about, she is now a courageous and wise leader at Winterfell, although it was difficult to watch at times on her way there. She endured plenty at the hands of Joffrey and then again at the hands of Ramsay Snow.
But, she's grown strong and powerful and now no one can hurt her. Unlike her sister, she never learned to fight, but she still saved lives by making wise decisions, like calling the Knights of the Vale to aid Jon in taking Winterfell. What's more impressive is that even after everything she's seen and endured, there are still moments when we see that the compassion she had before is still very much alive.
17 ROBB STARK
The Young Wolf certainly started out on the show as a heroic figure. He was afraid, but he didn't hesitate to rally his Bannermen when word of his father's capture reached him. He marched toward King's Landing winning every battle he was involved in to rescue his father and sisters from the capital and to free the land from the tyranny of the Lannisters. However, Robb was young, and it lead to his downfall.
He met Talisa on the battlefield and quickly became infatuated with her. He began to court her, fully aware that he had promised to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters; it's romantic, but like many romantic things, it's also foolish. By marrying Talisa, he had doomed his campaign, the people under his command, and the North to endure the Lannister rule. The worst part of that is the fact that he knew it was a risk when he married Talisa and was still willing to place everything in jeopardy anyway.
16 OLENNA TYRELL
The Queen of Thorns has plenty at her disposal: she's got her sharp wit, money, and a sizable army, or at least, she did until the Lannisters were able to take Highgarden and eliminate House Tyrell. As sad as that may be for fans of the character, we can't forget that she too was just as capable of wickedness as the Lannisters, even if it was mostly done to protect her family.
She had no problems allying herself with Littlefinger to eliminate Joffrey. It's true, she did the Seven Kingdoms a huge favor and it was partly because the boy king was a tyrant, but it wasn't for the oppressed peasants, it was mostly to protect her granddaughter, Margaery, from the king's malicious ways. Obviously, that's not a bad thing, but it's not too heroic either. In fact, the lack of remorse makes it seem slightly cold-hearted. Considering the kind of forces she was up against (Tywin Lannister for example), it's easy to see why she would have had to develop a heart of stone.
The Spider's allegiance wasn't immediately clear, though he did admit to Ned Stark early on that he served the realm. He means it, and since he's not a fighter, he protects the realm through clever machinations to combat the manipulative tactics of figures such as Littlefinger and Cersei Lannister. He takes his time and is more than willing to let good people like Ned Stark fall, but ultimately, he worked to see a kind and just ruler take the throne.
Varys might seem cold at times, especially in earlier seasons, but he shows us what fighting for the greater good really looks like beyond the battlefields. It's not always pretty, but it's necessary to ensure that everyone (that means society as a whole) is able to prosper. He doesn't claim to be a hero, but when his work is viewed in its entirety, it's difficult to deny that he is at least partially heroic.
14 CATELYN STARK
Here is a mother who would throw herself into peril if it meant saving her children. Catelyn Stark is driven by her love for her family and while that's also what lost her the trust of her son, Robb, it's why she was one of the heroic characters on the show. She supported her son's efforts in the war to the point where she was willing to walk into the Twins to deal with Walder Frey, knowing full well what he was capable of.
In fact, she involved herself in several conflicts in order to try and foster peaceful resolutions and that was apparent when she rode with Renly Baratheon when he went to confront his brother, Stannis. She may not have been a powerful warrior, but she was intelligent and caring enough to have earned a place on this list of heroes.
13 DAVOS SEAWORTH
The Onion Knight remained fiercely loyal to Stannis until the very end, even though it was Stannis who ordered Davos' fingers removed for smuggling. However, it wasn't the promise of power or wealth that earned Stannis this smuggler's loyalty. Davos Seaworth was loyal because he truly believed that Stannis was the one true king, the king who would set things right in Westeros.
Even when Melisandre seemed to lead Stannis astray, even after Stannis came perilously close to having Davos executed, the Onion Knight remained loyal and true. He readily fought for Stannis at the Battle of the Blackwater and because he believed in him, Davos was able to persuade others, such as the Iron Bank of Braavos or Salladhor Saan, to support the cause. He continues to prove his worth beside Jon Snow and now Daenerys, and there's no arguing that both of them are lucky to have Ser Davos as an ally.
12 MARGAERY TYRELL
She may not have fought in any battles, but she still risked her life everyday to make King's Landing just a little better than it was under Joffrey's regime. Thankfully for her, she knew how to manipulate him and was able to inspire him to act kindly toward the peasantry, whom she truly cared about. She made it a point to see the children of soldiers who fell in the Battle of the Blackwater and she at least tried to give away the leftover food from her wedding feast.
She was everything Cersei once was, only without the distrust for everyone around her. She didn't act out of greed, or at least it didn't seem like she did. She was born into nobility and she seemed to be doing her best to use that power and wealth for the good of the people around her. She might have shaped a good and kind king out of Tommen if Cersei hadn't destroyed her enemies in the Sept of Baelor.
11 TORMUND GIANTSBANE
While Tormund is definitely rough around the edges, he's a good-hearted wildling. Unlike the others, he can see good no matter where it comes from, which is why Jon was able to earn his respect, even when the others stubbornly refused to see him as anything other than a man of the Night's Watch.
He cares deeply about the people around him, which is why he did his best not to harm Ygritte when she turned against them all in defense of Jon Snow. It makes his fight against the Night's Watch, or anyone who would stand in the way of freedom and safety that much more respectable. He can be violent, but it's never for its own sake or personal gain. He just wants his people to thrive.
10 JEOR MORMONT
The Night's Watch was built on rules colder than the Wall it guards. Jeor Mormont understood that the men of the Night's Watch were still human, which is why he treated Jon Snow and the rest of the men with respect and relative compassion. Many of them may have been criminals once before, but at the Wall, they could start lives anew and Mormont gave them all a chance to earn respect and honor defending Westeros from wildlings and wights.
He saw the good in people, even if they couldn't fight. He still respected Sam, despite the fact he could barely wield a sword, because Jeor could see how intelligent Sam was. As Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont had to be stronger, wiser, and more dutiful than the rest, which is how he earned their respect.
9 NED STARK
Everyone in Westeros knew of the great and honorable Ned Stark, who fought alongside Robert Baratheon and freed Westeros from the rule of the Mad King. Ned always did his best to be truthful and show mercy when he could without disobeying the law. He took no pleasure in taking a life and didn't seem all that interested in gaining power. For the most part, he seemed like a soldier who had grown weary of fighting, but was doing his duty regardless.
Even the one dishonorable act he admitted to was actually noble and honorable. He saved Aegon Targaryen and raised him as his own son, Jon Snow. He was a hero in the war and throughout his brief time on the show, he proved that none of it was coincidental. He was a good person at heart; it's admirable, but it's also a great shame, because without the required wisdom, his sense of honor also proved to be his greatest weakness in the end.
8 JAIME LANNISTER
When Jaime pushed Bran Stark from the tower, he inadvertently started a war just to protect his hidden relationship with Cersei. He paid for it by losing his hand and as a result, lost the arrogant, violent part of him that kept him from growing or really connecting with people. He has always been a good person, hiding behind the colder, dishonorable person people believe him to be.
In truth, however, Jaime is a hero. He saved all of King's Landing from what would have been the Mad King's last violent command, he jumped into the pit to save Brienne from a bear, and finally switched sides after seeing Cersei's true colors. He's a complicated man and he has his flaws, but he's a worthy hero. He doesn't want power and he doesn't seem particularly concerned with money, he just wants to fight and be the knight of honor that members of the Kingsguard are supposed to be.
7 SAMWELL TARLY
Randyll Tarly sent his son to the Night's Watch to become a man. Sam may have quickly proved that he can't fight, but he also proved that there were other ways to defend Westeros. He studied and read so that he could arm others with the knowledge they needed to overcome great obstacles. More than that, when someone needs help, he doesn't turn them away.
He risked his life to save Gilly and her child, going so far as to jump at a White Walker not knowing what the dragon glass would do, which revealed a crucial weakness for others to use when the time came. Then again, he risked his life by performing an incredibly risky procedure to cure Jorah Mormont of greyscale. In the Great War, even if Tarly doesn't physically fight in it, he's done his part to save the world.
6 BRIENNE OF TARTH
The only daughter of Selwyn Tarth chose to become a great fighter rather than another noble lady. She excelled at fighting and proved it when she bested Jaime Lannister in single combat when he had the use of both hands. The people around her seem to think little of her, but she does her best not to let that bother her and she remains humble and incredibly loyal to those she deems honorable.
Despite refusing to call herself a knight, she constantly exhibits the qualities of one, more so than some of the actual knights seen throughout Westeros. She fights only when there's no other option and clearly takes vows and oaths seriously, which is why she followed Arya and Sansa and was able to protect the latter when it counted, which is why we know she'll do great things in the war to come.
5 TYRION LANNISTER
A unpleasant father and sociopathic sister ensured that Tyrion endured a lot through his childhood just for being a dwarf whose mother didn't survive childbirth. Despite all that, Tyrion kept on fighting in every way he could. Everyone else could fight and charm others with just their names and their physical capabilities, but Tyrion had to do better. He sharpened his mind and found his own successes through intelligence and kindness.
Tyrion is a hero because, despite his limitations, he doesn't cower away from a struggle. He fought when he needed to fight, leading the Battle of the Blackwater after the king abandoned it; he continued to advise the people around him so they could lead good lives or forge great kingdoms, which is why even in this war, there are people on both sides that respect him greatly.
4 GREY WORM
Like all other members of the Unsullied, Grey Worm was raised from birth in Astapor to become a heartless warrior, capable of fighting any battle and any opponent using almost any available weapon. He became commander of the Unsullied after Astapor was conquered by Daenerys Targaryen, who freed the soldiers and requested their fealty instead of demanding it.
Grey Worm joined her side and continued to fight, as he was trained to do, simply because Daenerys was a liberator and he wanted to keep the rest of Essos from enduring pain. He chose his queen for selfless reasons and that's heroic enough to warrant a spot on this list, but let's look at the kind of determination with which he fights, like when he and Barristan Selmy fought off the Sons of the Harpy. It looked like a heroic last stand for them both, and luckily, Grey Worm survived.
3 MANCE RAYDER
The Night's Watch made Mance out to be a treacherous deserter and a threat to the safety of the North, but after finally coming face-to-face with him, Jon Snow quickly realized that they'd been wrong. Mance fled to the North, but he was no tyrant. He united the feuding tribes from Beyond the Wall, which was no easy feat, because he knew that something bigger was coming and they needed to get behind the Wall.
He didn't even seem to dislike the Night's Watch for fighting him, in fact, he still respected the leading figures and the men that fought for them. He fought hard and wisely and he didn't do it out of a need for power. He wanted everyone to live, even people who weren't his own, which is more than many of Westeros' rulers can say.
2 DAENERYS TARGARYEN
The daughter of the Mad King isn't very much like her father. Daenerys may occasionally have moments in which she's unnecessarily harsh, but for the most part, she strives to be a wise and just ruler, better than any of the rulers Westeros has had in recent memory. She knows her limits and her flaws and trusts in the people around her to guide her when she needs it.
Her priority is always the freedom of the commoners. In her quest to take Westeros, she did not hesitate to change course to free the people of Slaver's Bay from the Masters. Even when it came to those who double-crossed her, she never made rash decisions. She listened to them before casting judgement, which is an important quality in a ruler. The Mother of Dragons had nothing in the beginning, but she made the unforgiving climb to power and she kept a good heart every step of the way, making her far more heroic than many of the characters on the show.
1 JON SNOW
If we could, Daenerys and Jon Snow would share first place, but the rules of lists dictate that there must be a number one. The two characters share a lot of the same heroic qualities and they've both arguably done just as much to rescue people they had nothing to do with. It's not Jon's bravery and skill in combat that distinguishes him, though it could, but the only reason why Jon is that much more heroic is because unlike Dany, Jon has never wavered from what he knows to be absolutely true, just like his father taught him.
It's that stubbornness that compelled him to refuse Cersei in the Dragonpit when they were discussing the truce. He doesn't have a deceptive bone in his body, which shows that much more integrity and strength of character. It's why he's a fan favorite, why the people of the Night's Watch trust and respect him, and why, if he does end up ruling in the end, the Seven Kingdoms will know an era of peace and prosperity.