TV & Radio
Spoiler warning: If you aren't up-to-date on Game of Thrones, this will spoil your viewing pleasure.
Four seasons, 40 episodes and 4000 deaths. At least, that's what it feels like, as our emotions once again whirl about our insides after a tumultuous end to series four.
We TV-watching-Throners venture our all on the frail bark of beloved characters, and mourned the shipwrecks that inevitably follow. But we also latch onto the seething hate that other characters provoke in us, and jump with joy when they are finally bumped off.
Here, then, is the definitive ranking of the most memorable deaths in Game of Thrones, rated from one to 10 in three categories:
- Surprise: how unexpected each death was.
- Impact: rank the death's effect on the plot and subsequent events.
- Gore: ... well, that should be fairly self-explanatory.
1. The Red Wedding (S3E9)
My body still involuntarily twitches when I think of this scene. It took out the mother and son combination of Catelyn and Robb Stark, as well as Robb's wife Talisa, his direwolf Grey Wind, and hundreds if not thousands of northern soldiers.
The barbaric massacre, at the wedding dinner for Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey, was Lord Frey's revenge for Robb spurning an engagement with one of his daughters. He and Roose Bolton cut a deal with the Lannisters to turn against Robb in return for dominance in the Riverlands and the North. It ended the war of five kings once and for all, and it left the remaining Stark children orphans.
But it was the savageness of the slaughter that so affected viewers. Arrows flying from musicians-turned-assassins, a dagger shoved into the belly of a pregnant woman, Roose Bolton stabbing Robb and Catelyn's throat being slit. Its multiple victims and gore factor ramps it up enough to just pip Ned Stark as the most memorable of all Game of Thrones deaths.
2. Ned Stark (S1E9)
Sure, he was in prison, helpless and wounded, but surely Ned Stark was going to get out of it. He was the hero, after all. And heroes escape and survive... don't they?
When Joffrey reneged on the agree plea deal (Ned confesses to treason, saves Sansa and Arya) and ordered the Lord of Winterfell to die, we were worried, but not panicking. Ned would get out of it, somehow.
And then his head got chopped off.
The death of Ned Stark was the original shock conclusion, and confirmed Game of Thrones as a series where no one was safe, and especially not heroes.
3. Oberyn Martell (S4E8)
Not since the days of Ned Stark have we been as united behind a protagonist as we were when the suave, libidinous Dornish Prince sauntered out to meet the Mountain as Tyrion's champion. We were all on the Red Viper's cheer squad, and for a while victory was in our sights as he disabled and taunted Gregor Clegane.
But then it all turned, and Oberyn was down. It was the ultimate snatched goal, the fantasy equivalent of Jonny Wilkinson's drop kick at the 2003 World Cup (finally! A sporting reference!). And it was bloody, so, so bloody, with the Mountain squashing Oberyn's eyes and popping his brains out the back of his skull.
Its immediate impact was the pronouncement of a death sentence on Tyrion; but its real effects will probably start being felt from next season, when the Dornish royal house finds out.
4. Tywin Lannister (S4E10)
Shot while on the privy - such an ignoble end to the ultimate puppet-master and power-wielder, Tywin Lannister.
The patriarch and Hand of the King was always a love-to-hate character: a complete bastard, sure, but one equipped with a supremely cunning mind and a dedication to ensuring dynastic legacy that was as admirable as it was excessively demanding on his offspring.
Whether Tyrion intended to kill his father when he put off escaping and ventured instead into the Tower of the Hand is not clear to the TV viewer. Certainly there would have been words, but with the revelation of Shae as Tywin's mistress, words ceased to be enough.
Tywin didn't believe his imp son was capable of murder, and certainly not undignified murder. His last insult, "You are not my son!" prompted Tyrion to prove that yes, he was, by shooting him with a crossbow.
Its impact is yet to be felt, but it will start with the loss of a father for Jaime and Cersei, see Tyrion on the run, threaten the Lannister/Tyrell alliance and leave a gaping power vacuum in King's Landing.
5. King Joffrey (S4E2)
They say good things come to those who wait, and so it was when Joffrey began coughing and spluttering at his wedding reception. After three seasons of being an unconscionable little cur, and an extended sequence involving him being an utter bastard to Tyrion, it was welcome revenge to watch a piece of wedding pie go down the wrong way.
It was poison, of course, and it led to seizures and a rather bloody nose. If there was any complaint from fans it was that it was too kind an end for Joffrey, who probably should have been tickled by lizard tongue for 24 hours before receiving a series of paper cuts all over his body and Deep Heat rubbed into them.
Its impact obviously set things in motion for season four - a new king, Cersei's rage, Tyrion's murder trial, and Sansa's flight. We loved to hate Joffrey, but we're not really sad he got his just desserts.
6. The Hound (S4E10)
"Killed by a woman," was Sandor Clegane's rueful lament as he lay bleeding and with a femur bone poking out of his thigh.
Of course the real culprit wasn't the woman who'd bested him in brutal hand-to-hand combat, Brienne of Tarth, but the young woman he had quasi-adopted one season ago. Arya was supposed to be his bargaining chip, but all of his plans to ransom her had fallen through. Still, he was possessive enough to fight for her custody, despite knowing in his gut Arya would be better off with Brienne.
We didn't see him die, exactly, just heard him yelling "Kill me!" as Arya walked away. With The Hound out of the picture, Arya was free to choose her own destiny, which was east to Braavos.
7. Shae (S4E10)
Oscar Wilde said each man kills the thing he loves, and so it was with Tyrion and Shae.
We never really got to know Shae, the mysterious foreign woman who so bewitched Tyrion and seemed to love him back. Rejected by his attempts to protect her, she testified against him at his trial for Joffrey's murder, leaving him desolate.
But even that wasn't as bad as finding her in his father's bed, and hearing her call for him with the same affection term ("Lion") as she used on him. Something took over in Tyrion then, something cold. He used his weight to strangle her with her own necklace, but could then only apologise for it. The impact of the murder was great, because it made Tyrion go and find the person he believed truly responsible.
8. Khal Drogo (S1E10)
Daenerys' relationship with the Dothraki king was complicated. Married against her will, Dany was initially a passive victim. But something in her didn't want to remain that way, and she took steps to assert her importance to him (I think they call it "the cowgirl") and in turn helped develop her own confidence along the way.
For his part, Drogo seemed invulnerable. He could rip your tongue out through your throat with his bare hands, after all. So retrospectively it shouldn't have been a surprise that this mighty warrior got taken down by an infection, but it still shocked.
It didn't kill him of course; that was Dany, who sacrificed her child to try to save the Khal with blood magic, but then couldn't live with the virtually comatose result. Suffocating the one you love to death. Ah, true love. His death led to the birth of Dany's dragons, the source of her temporal and mythical power.
9. Viserys Targaryen (S1E6)
Remember how unpleasant Viserys was, all ego and angry eyes? And remember how cowed and frightened Daenerys was when he was around, while putting up with his constant whinging and impetuosity just because they were the last heirs of the dragon? Then Khal Drogo threw a vat of molten gold over his head with the immortal line, "A crown for a king", and we all whooped like bad coughs.
It was a pretty brutal dispatching, and it cemented what we already knew in our hearts - that it would be Dany, not her brother, who would carry on the Targaryen name. It was also a key factor in Dany's obsession with freedom.
10. Renly Baratheon (S2E5)
Renly was all a-splendour at Storm's End, with his Rainbow Guard and his pretty new wife Margaery and her prettier brother Loras. And it seemed like an alliance with the North could officially net him the Iron Throne. But then it all came unstuck.
Melisandre had birthed Stannis' demon-shadow son who promptly stabbed Renly in the fatal parts. It wasn't a bloody death, but it was still creepy enough to scare the crap out of Brienne of Tarth, who is not normally a woman prone to the jitters.
Renly's death had a huge ripple effect: his army flocked to Stannis giving him enough confidence to launch the Battle of Blackwater Bay; and Brienne's alliance with the Starks eventually led to her considerable role in the rehabilitation of Jaime Lannister.
Ygritte seems to have been a divisive character, but for those of us who fancy ourselves as kick-ass warrior types with a predilection for dark-haired, brooding fellas, Ygritte was sensational.
Obsessed with killing Jon Snow in return for his betrayal of the wildling cause, she couldn't bring herself to do it either of the two opportunities she had. On the second, at the Battle of Castle Black, her hands faltered at the sight of Jon's rueful smile (sigh), giving young Ollie enough time to shoot her in the back.
Her death will impact most on Jon Snow, as he tries to recommit himself to the Night's Watch, despite knowing how good caving to a little hot springs can be.
12. Lysa Arryn (S4E7)
We all knew Loopy Lysa was doomed as soon as she revealed her obsessive attachment to Petyr Baelish in season four. Having helped him all along by murdering her husband Jon Arryn and luring Ned Stark to the capital so he could be bumped off, there was no way she could survive. Littlefinger doesn't like to leave loose ends, and Lysa's jealousy of Sansa was not going to stop.
Littlefinger revealed that he'd only ever loved Catelyn (her sister), then pushed Lysa backwards out of the Moon Door. Although the image of Lysa falling was quite poetic, think about what would have happened to her body when it hit the rocks of the Vale. Pretty gruesome. Still it was the push Sansa needed.
13. Ros (S3E6)
Ros was a character entirely invented for the TV series; a Northern prostitute with ambition and guile. She became a favourite because she never lost her humanity, despite her eventual role as Petyr Baelish's madam and assistant.
Sadly for Ros, Baelish discovered her deal with Varys, and gave her to Joffrey to use as target practice for his sadistic desires. It was a horrid death - naked, bound and shot with a crossbow. Ros deserved much better. The primary impact her death had was on us, the audience, who saw her value beyond the label of "whore".
14. Lady (S1E2)
It's worth including Sansa's direwolf because of the wedge it drove between the two Stark sisters. Poor innocent Lady stood in for Nymeria, who had savaged that idiot Joffrey as he picked on Arya and Micah, the butcher's boy. Arya had sent Nymeria away, but Cersei insisted that a direwolf must lose its life. It was a signal of just how petty the Lannister queen could get.
Lady's execution was carried out quickly by Ned Stark, who refused to let a southerner kill a creature of the North. The camera focused on Ned's face, rather than Lady, but we'll never forget her final whimper.
15. Ser Dontas (S4E3)
Poor Ser Dontas. Introduced in series two as an incompetent knight that Sansa convinces Joffrey to make his fool instead of executing him, he disappeared until series four when he turns up all sad-faced to give Sansa an heirloom necklace.
Sansa and Ser Dontas have a more involved relationship in the books, but with his role cut down for TV, we shouldn't have been surprised when Petyr Baelish had him blasted with an arrow as payment for spiriting Sansa away from King's Landing.
But even though he was helping Sansa for money, he wasn't a bad guy. I think he was persuaded into it because Sansa had been genuinely kind to him. So his skewering still warranted a sharp intake of breath.
16. Jon Arryn (S1E1)
It happened off-screen, before the events of the TV series began, so it neither surprised nor shocked us. After all, we were still trying to work out what each character's name was and where they fit in this strange world (Eddard Stark? Or Ned Stark? Oh, that's a nickname? So he's Warden of the North? What's the North? And he's also Lord of Winterfell? Is that like Tinkerbell?)
But we wouldn't have a show if it wasn't for old Jon Arryn being bumped off to put the wheels in motion. Hats off to you sir, all the sacrifice, but none of the glory.
- Sydney Morning Herald