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Now that its pay cable reign has come to an end, Game Of Thrones has carved out a place in television history as one of its most beloved shows and also one of its most controversial.  Adapted from George R.R. Martin’s series of acclaimed novels, it delivered a sprawling tale of intrigue between multiple kingdoms in a mythical bygone era. Over eight seasons, it brought the fantasy genre into the mainstream in a way that shocked and delighted a fanbase that grew with each year. 

It also had one of the most hotly debated final seasons of any show ever. Schlockmania’s quick, spoiler-free take: between having to continue an adaptation without source material and deciding to wrap things up in a six-episode season, showrunners/creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss rushed events and character arcs that needed a few additional seasons to unfurl smoothly. Thus, you had changes in character behavior that felt unnatural, shorthand plotting that often felt implausible and an overall feeling that the story got to what could have been a satisfying end place in the wrong way.

That said, the journey is still worth taking for the genre-minded viewer: the first five seasons in particular are really strong. The scope of the production is mindboggling for television, feeling like an epic movie in virtually every episode. Best of all, there is a sprawling cast of characters brought to life by a fantastic ensemble of actors. One of the great strengths of Game Of Thrones was its ability to handle develop rich and involving arcs for multiple characters at once. 

The following is the first half of a list of Schlockmania’s favorite characters from the show, with explanations for what makes them noteworthy.  It mostly shies away from the expected lead characters in favor of the second and third-tier players who made vivid impressions with less time than the more prominent characters in the narrative.  Watching their journeys was the most rewarding part of Game Of Thrones for Schlockmania.

Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann): this character begins as your typical bad guy’s henchman but when the machinations of the Lannister dynasty force him to question his role, he sets out on a journey into the hinterlands that becomes a journey into self. There are certain fixed elements to his character that align with the show’s narrative – namely his drive for revenge – but he develops a new appreciation for relationships, mentoring and interacting with others who have different outlooks on life.  He also a beautiful way with blunt-force insults that he never loses at any point in his journey.

Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey): there are a few royal houses on this show that are led by children who get unexpectedly bumped into the ruler’s chair by fate and the rules of family dynasty.  None of them are as ideally suited as the youngest Mormont. Despite her youthful age, she’s a pretty good judge of character, loyal to those who show her the same quality, unafraid to speak her mind and brave when men three or four times her age are hesitant to act. When it’s time to fight, she’s willing to shoulder the weight with the rest of the heroes.

Lord Varys (Conleth Hill): He’s an advisor to kings and queens, brutally pragmatic when it comes to making political moves and a “master of whisperers” who is frequently ahead of the other characters when it comes to gossip and secrets. He seems to be a charmingly loquacious villain at first but he comes to reveal his humanity in layers as the show goes on, proving he is someone with a sympathy for the underdog because suffering as an underdog motivated him to get where he is. It helps that Hill has a magnificent, honeyed style of line delivery: he could recite the phone book and make it sound musical to the ear.

Ygritte (Rose Leslie): she is the female “wildling” that Jon Snow falls in love with during his time separated from the Night’s Watch.  She is brave, a formidable fighter and forthright in ways that no woman is south of the Wall so it’s no wonder he’d be attracted to her. Loyalty is the flip side of her fierceness so when his original duties lead him to betray her love, her desire for revenge is as intense as that love.  Leslie’s performance thrills and frightens in equal measure without ever losing the viewer’s sympathy or interest. Listen out for her signature line – “You know nothing, Jon Snow” – which takes on multiple shadings when used in different scenes.

Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha): The mystical/fantasy side of Game Of Thrones reaches an apex in character form through this mysterious figure. At first, he is an enigmatic but skilled fighter who aids Arya when she comes to his aid. He later becomes a dark mentor figure in her journey when is she weighing her decisions on issues like whether she wants to gain power at the loss of self/history.  Imagine if Yoda was morally ambiguous and you get an idea of his vibe.  He remains compelling from his first moment onscreen to his last, even when you’re questioning his motivations.

The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce): This character represents one of the best and most convincing portraits of religious fanaticism Schlockmania has ever seen in fiction. He defies the usual image of the fanatic by being soft-spoken and ascetic in ways we don’t normally associate with people who proclaim themselves to be godly oracles. However, he gradually reveals he is as manipulative and dangerous as any aspiring monarch in this show, an arc that is all the more impressive in how plays out because he does it without theatrics.  Pryce’s performance here is one of his finest.