Which characters had the most satisfying character journeys? Which had the most disappointing? Below, Jay ranks the character journeys… What’s your ranking? Share it in the comments!
NOTE: This article contains a ton of spoilers!
I know, I know. Unexpected, right? Here’s why Melisandre’s character journey is my favorite: One, when we meet her, she’s overconfident and full of pride. She believes firmly that the Lord of Light has called her to help Stoic Stannis achieve the throne. She also believes that the ends justifies the means. She’s willing to kill kids to put Stannis on the throne! And, perhaps even worse, she justifies it by claiming that the Lord of Light is telling her to do it (…and maybe the god is telling her that, though that’s pretty ambiguous).
But… when it turns out Stannis isn’t the chosen one, she goes through a period of intense doubt. She questions her entire purpose and all her actions. Her pride transforms into defeated humility.
And then she realizes her true calling: to help Jon Snow defeat the White Walkers.
If her journey stopped there, I might not have her at number one. It’s impressive, but not enough to put her up at the top. Except there’s the scene at Winterfell during The Long Night, where she gives Arya the prophecy (“…and blue eyes”) and inspires her with the quote: “What do we say to the god of Death?”
And that makes Melisandre’s character journey amazing.
Faithful and over-zealous. A prideful sinner acting in ways she believes the Lord of Light will respect. Only, her god doesn’t seem to support her. And when that happens, she becomes depressed and despondent. She’s confused. And then she learns humility, she inspires others (Arya), and her actions help to defeat the realm’s greatest evil: the White Walkers.
2. SANSA STARK
In season one, Sansa Stark feels like the most frustrating character of them all. But, at the end of season eight, I wanted her to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Why? Because Sansa started as a naive, spoiled brat who only wanted to be a princess. She betrayed Arya (lying to Robert Baratheon for Joffrey), she betrayed her father (by forcing him to lie–even if it was indirect), and she didn’t learn her lesson until Ned Stark’s head was separated from his body.
From there, her journey became tragic. She turned into a bargaining chip who was forced to marry multiple men, but never for her benefit. She was a pawn of the realm, tossed around based on the whims of horrible people. And then it got even worse: Ramsay Bolton.
But, that journey didn’t break Sansa. She rose above her circumstances to become the most capable leader in the realm. She spoke to strategy, she admitted to a lack of knowledge in some areas, but still spoke up with great ideas. Sansa transformed into a strong, capable leader, and it makes sense that Sansa Stark would rule the North in her mother and father’s name.
3. TYRION LANNISTER
The Imp. A smart man who was seen as a joke to just about everyone in the Seven Kingdoms. His own family was ashamed of him. Most didn’t even trust him. But he slowly began to show his resilience, his intelligence, and his understanding of political and combat strategy.
He consistently sought out how to add value to the “right team.” He sided with Dany–a ponderous choice, but one wherein he showed his value. He helped Dany make better decisions and proved one of her most loyal advisors.
Why isn’t Tyrion at the top? It’s primarily an issue with Dany’s journey, not his. But, because he’s so integral to her journey, and since her journey goes a bit sideways in season eight, that impacts his character. He still ends up in the right place: as the Hand of the new king… but he betrays Dany. Part of that makes sense: She is going crazy… But it also feels pretty wrong, because he tries to save Jamie and Cersei, who (A) don’t deserve it and (B) represent the biggest threat to Dany.
Tyrion’s journey doesn’t feel quite right given Dany’s journey, but he still ends up right where we want him.
4. ARYA STARK
If we were playing, “Who’s your favorite character?” or even “Who ends up in the right place?” I might put Arya at the top, or at least in the top three… In fact, if Arya killed the Night King and then jumped on a ship to explore “West of Westeros,” I would have her character journey at the top of the list. It would be nothing short of epic.
But… episode five of season eight contains one of the worst, most jarring changes in a character in the entire series… and it’s not Dany! (We’ll get to Dany in a minute.) It’s Arya! Arya spends days (we don’t know how many) traveling from Winterfell to King’s Landing. When she gets to King’s Landing, the battle between Cersei and Dany is just starting. She and Sandor make it all the way to the Red Keep. And then, startlingly. Sandor turns to her and tells her she shouldn’t be seeking revenge. What?!?!? Sandor suddenly becomes Yoda? This is the same dude who just insulted Sansa Stark at Winterfell. If the dude is anything, it’s emotionally stunted, not wise. After his short exchange with Arya inside the Red Keep, she says, “Thank you.” And then she leaves!!! She leaves!!! It’s one of the most abrupt changes in the entire series, and it’s completely unbelievable.
I think it could have been fixed by her seeing Cersei dead and realizing that her list was done. The last person on her list was dead. Then, as Arya suddenly feels lost, Sandor could have told her to leave… But, I can’t spend this article fixing all the issues with all the character journeys here (which I wouldn’t be able to do anyway). That would take too long. But, for as awesome of a character as Arya is, this exchange means her journey feels a little… off. It’s still amazing, but it can’t make the top three.
5. JORAH MORMONT
Jorah’s character journey is satisfying for two reasons: (1) His life ends defending the woman he loves (which is kinda creepy when he loves her when she’s too young for him, but…) and (2) He’s forced to go on a long journey to prove his loyalty to her after she learns he’s been spying on her.
Jorah dedicates his life to what he believes to be one of the most important objectives: helping Dany claim the throne. And in order to prove himself, he has to go through an interesting arc. When it’s all over, Jorah’s death is what we wanted for him. And, he didn’t have to witness Dany’s transformation into madness or be party to it, because that likely would have crushed his soul.
6. SAMWELL TARLY
From craven to the guy who proposes democracy to a kingdom ravaged by infighting monarchs… Not a bad character journey. And despite Samwell “toughening up” over time, he never loses his compassion or his sense of right and wrong. Sure, everybody laughs at his democracy idea, but of all the characters capable of suggesting that idea, Samwell seems best suited to it.
7. JON SNOW
Jon beats Dany on this list… but only by a narrow margin. He goes from being Ned Stark’s bastard to the lord commander of the Night’s Watch, to the true heir to the Iron Throne… Jon’s been on a roller coaster of a journey, but he maintains a strong sense of who he is. Given his lineage–both Targaryen and Stark–should he be on the Iron Throne? No. Why? Because he wouldn’t be the leader the realm needs. Much like his father, he’s not up for political battles or royal intrigues. He’s simple. He’s a good military leader. That’s it.
But, given all the prophecies, and given the fact that he and Dany started to fall in love… Jon’s character journey ends… oddly. Not that he’s “king beyond the wall.” That actually makes a ton of sense. Of course we want him to be the “king beyond the wall.”
But Dany and Jon’s journeys are too abrupt near the end, and Jon killing Dany feels odd (at least how it was executed). I might be more into it if Jon had to die in order to kill Dany. At least that would have a Romeo and Juliet-like tragic touch.
Jon’s character journey is another casualty of season eight. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great, either. And I think we all wanted it to be a bit smoother.
8. DAENERYS TARGARYEN
Dany’s journey is by far the most epic (though Arya’s is awfully close). In many ways, her journey mirrors Sansa’s, except with one clear difference: Dany consistently turns her tragedy into strength and power (it doesn’t hurt that she gets some dragons…). She adapts. She learns. She frees oppressed people groups.
But, lurking in Dany’s past is a history of mental health issues (I’m not sure what else to call them, so apologies if that seems insensitive). Those manifest themselves in season eight. And here’s why Dany’s journey doesn’t appear higher on this list: Her change is far too abrupt. Which is disappointing, because Dany had so much promise. Her journey is tragic, which I love, but the tragedy is unearned. And when Jon kills her… it feels like we missed something. If we had another season, these problems would likely have been smoothed out, but we didn’t get a season nine, and Dany didn’t get a strong ending worthy of her amazing start.
9. BRAN STARK
I’m all about stories. I wouldn’t be a writer or a story geek otherwise. It was as if Tyrion, during his impassioned speech supporting Bran as king, was speaking to me. Except… even I wouldn’t elect Bran as king. Like Dany, Bran goes on an epic journey. He’s pushed out a window as a boy. He becomes disabled. But he also becomes one of the most powerful characters in the story–the three-eyed raven.
But… the three-eyed raven doesn’t really do much in the end. I mean, I guess he looks for the Night King during the Battle of Winterfell, but he doesn’t play a role in the Battle of King’s Landing at all. Bran’s ending feels unsatisfying because, like Dany’s, it’s setup to be epic. Dany’s journey is epic (though abrupt), but Bran’s ends up fizzling. He’s a powerful character who never uses his power. That’s a total bummer.
10. GREY WORM
Grey Worm doesn’t change a lot, but he does go from being a warrior slave without a sense of himself, to discovering that he’s far more than a weapon–he’s a person. And, again, through season seven, Grey Worm’s journey is fantastic. I also like that he heads to Naath at the close of the last season. That’s satisfying.
Why is he so low on the list? Because in episode five of season eight, he follows Dany into rage-filled revenge on King’s Landing and the Lannisters. That works given his journey. He had to watch the only love of his life–Missandei–die at the hands of Cersei. The slaughtering of Cersei’s people at King’s Landing doesn’t feel unearned (for Grey Worm specifically).
What’s the problem, then? Well, his response to Jon killing Dany doesn’t make any sense. He was willing to kill innocent people in support of his queen. But, he’s not willing to kill Jon? He doesn’t have any respect for legacy. He’s not concerned about Dany’s strategy (killing innocents in King’s Landing). He’s okay doing morally gray things if it means clearing a path for a better world. And we can’t really blame him for that. But… he has no love for Jon Snow! Grey Worm would have stabbed Jon in the face after he killed Dany, which makes him another victim of season eight’s break-neck pace.
11. JAMIE & CERSEI LANNISTER (TIE)
We’re introduced to two beautiful characters who have a dark secret that threatens to destroy the realm. Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen are not Robert’s kids! They’re Jamie’s kids! Which means none of them have a claim to the Iron Throne. That’s the entire setup of season one (and the first book), and it’s super compelling (it’s even better in the book–the implications of their relationship gave me the chills when Ned uncovered it).
But, perhaps worse than the incest (which is obviously wrong in our world, but in Westeros, some people don’t seem super concerned about it) is the fact that this relationship destroys the realm. Not only that, it destroys the Lannister family, and in the end, it destroys Jamie.
The reason I put them dead last (at least on this list) is that the show doesn’t give us a satisfying end to this horrific relationship. Instead, they reconnect, comfort one another, and die as the Red Keep crashes down all around them. One might think that would be satisfying. It’s not. Because in episode five, their reconnection doesn’t feel icky and tragic, it feels romantic. Romantic! It’s literally destroying the realm and eating Jamie from the inside like a virus, but it feels romantic! And episode six (the finale) doesn’t solve it. When Tyrion finds the two of them, they look like two beautiful Disney characters lying there in the bricks, as gorgeous as ever. It only doubles down on the romantic nature of their relationship.
We don’t see their relationship for what it is… a terrible secret that sets in motion the collapse of Westeros.
Of course, there are way more characters than I listed here. Theon Greyjoy could be on the list, and his journey is fairly satisfying. Ser Davos, who learns to read and rises above his reputation as the “onion knight,” has a pretty satisfying journey, too. But, rather than go into more of my thoughts, I’d love to hear YOURS! Please comment below and let me know what you thought of the characters and their journeys!