Warning: “Game of Thrones” spoilers ahead.
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.
A few notes: This list only counts characters who are still alive on the show (not in the books). So keep in mind that a bunch of people have died recently. Shout out to the incomparable Olenna Tyrell — we’ll miss you, Queen of Thorns.
Also, this list only takes into consideration individuals who could be counted as “leaders” — more solitary characters who aren’t currently in leadership roles aren’t on here, like Arya Stark, Jorah Mormont, Meera Reed, Melisandre, or Sandor Clegane.
The same goes for people who are basically totally out of commission at this point — sorry, Ellaria and Yara.
Lastly, this ranking looks into characters’ track records but heavily favours things that happened this season. This list examines leadership ability, not overall power, importance, or title.
Here are the leaders on “Game of Thrones” that have survived the season so far, ranked from worst to best:
Jaime seems more directionless than ever this season.
Sure, he did a good job of beating the weakest of the great houses -- 'golden roses, indeed,' as Olenna quipped -- and poisoning an old lady.
But all he could do while the Queen of Thrones berated him about his terrible sister-girlfriend was throw back half-hearted protestations.
And the look on his face when the last Tyrell revealed she had gone all 'Arsenic and Old Lace' on Joffrey was pretty rough.
Now he knows that his father and sister forced Tyrion out for no reason at all -- so what's next for the Kingslayer?
As Tom McKay pointed out in Mic, this slippery, disgraced ex-Maester has become one of the most powerful people in King's Landing. He's now Queen Cersei's Hand, after all.
But that doesn't mean Qyburn's a decent leader.
Previous Hands, like Ned Stark, Tyrion Lannister, and Tywin Lannister, all brought their own agenda and a forceful presence to the role.
He's ultimately a follower, not a leader.
In fairness, we haven't seen too much from Brienne yet this season.
So far, she's mostly just been hanging around Winterfell, protecting Sansa, and mentoring Podrick.
She's done a good job of that, but I'm definitely excited to see what's in store for her next.
Boo, Randyll Tarly.
The guy shows up in King's Landing to meet with the Lannisters, acts incredibly self-righteous when Jaime asks him to betray Olenna Tyrell, and then surprises no one by turning out to be yet another bannerman that betrays his liege.
He swore an oath to the Tyrells and broke it to get ahead. What sort of example does that set as a leader? The short term gain might be sweet, but in the end, I have a feeling this will come back to bite him.
OK, I know Bran's got a lot on his mind right now... literally.
But he's also just reunited with Sansa, who believed he was dead. So maybe don't scare her off by bringing up her past trauma?
From a leadership perspective, tossing around cryptic messages and looking out into the distance isn't a particularly effective way of furthering your agenda.
People got pretty mad at Theon after he left Yara in the hands of Euron.
But, honestly, I don't get the rage. What was he supposed to do? His evil maniac of an uncle was holding an axe to his sister's throat. Plus, given Theon's traumatic past, I think his reaction was understandable, at the very least.
So, this low ranking really isn't a judgment of him jumping off the boat.
But, given the reaction of the Ironborn who pulled him out of the sea, Theon will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to regaining some leadership credibility with his people.
Tormund is more of a team player at this point, when he's not flirting with Brienne and backing up Jon.
Missendei hasn't had too many moments to shine on her own yet this season. So far, she's done a good job of working with Daenerys, though.
She even cleared up the whole matter of why the whole 'Prince That Was Promised' legend was a mis-translation.
Littlefinger is in the mix up at Winterfell, but we haven't seen any big power moves from him yet. So far, all he's managed to do is annoy Sansa and Jon -- resulting in sarcasm and strangling.
Still, don't count this creeper out yet. Whether it's driving a wedge betwixt the Starks or seizing the realm for himself, I'm sure Baelish has got something tricky up his sleeves.
Varys is still more of a follower than a leader.
But he did a nice job standing up for himself when Daenerys Targaryen questioned his loyalty.
When pushed, the Spider was candid about his intentions. At the end of the day, he's not about boosting up one particular family or monarch. He's not blinded by love or ideology or ego.
He's here for the people of the realm; the common people whose lives have been torn up by all this war and strife.
It's nice to see someone sticking up for the smallfolk.
She hasn't been in the spotlight too much yet, but Lyanna pretty much steals every scene she's in.
'I don't plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me,' she told the gathered Northern families. 'I might be small, Lord Glover, and I might be a girl. But I am every bit as much a Northerner as you.'
Spoken like a truly wise leader.
Heck, I didn't want to rank this gross, tight-pants-wearing, misogynistic creep this high.
I'm no fan of Euron, but you can't argue with the fact that this psychotic pirate isn't doing bad for himself so far. He took down his niece, burned the enemy fleet, and has his sights set on Cersei.
At the same time, this Greyjoy captain clearly doesn't trust the Lannisters -- not a bad strategy, in general.
As Tyrion said, the Unsullied don't fight out of fear. They fight for freedom, and out of gratitude to Daenerys.
This season, Grey Worm was able to channel that loyalty into a deft capture of Casterly Rock. Sure, the triumph was blunted a bit by the fall of Highgarden, but he still did a good job rallying his team and coordinating a nifty attack.
Who the heck is Tycho Nestoris?
I know. Honestly, I had to look this character's name up on Wikipedia.
Yes, he's kind of a random character, but he's certainly doing a splendid job representing the Iron Bank!
The guy's come to get his money. He's cautious, determined, but willing to give the Lannisters another chance, once he hears Cersei's argument about revolutionaries. He's prudent, but open-minded, which is a good combination in any leader.
Davos has been a good advisor, so far.
He understood the value of taking a risk and convinced the King in the North to ride south to meet the Mother of Dragons in Dragonstone.
He was definitely passionate when he backed up Jon Snow during their initial meeting with Daenerys -- which was basically Tyrion and the Onion Knight detailing their respective rulers' résumés.
Samwell is really coming to his own in this season, now that he's not simply Jon Snow's smart but nervous sidekick.
He took a huge risk and cured Jorah all on his own in one of the most disgusting scenes in television history. Sam broke into the restricted section of the library to learn more about the impending, icy threat in the north.
He's really gotten into a groove now that he's in the Citadel.
Sure, at first this Maester came across as just another stickler for the rules.
But he proved his leadership prowess last night, after he discovered Samwell's subterfuge.
Ebrose didn't fly off the handle over Sam's risky decision to treat Jorah's greyscale with an unorthodox, and gruesome, method.
He accepted that his apprentice took a calculated risk. Then he maintained discipline by forcing him to copy all those moldy books.
True leaders give their team enough room to experiment and take thoughtful risks, without letting things descend into chaos. Well done, Maester.
I hate to say it, but Cersei's kind of been on fire lately. Wildfire, that is.
Sure, she's evil as heck, but she's been faring well now that the going has gotten tough for the Lannisters.
She forged a crucial alliance with Euron, allowing her to capture the women who murdered her daughter and ensure that they met a grisly end. She had Jaime take down the Queen of Thorns, who, as it turns out, killed her son.
She's also seemingly managed to rally the few remaining loyal lords in her court, thanks to one seriously xenophobic speech about the Dothraki and the Unsullied.
Even more importantly, she commissioned Qyburn to build a machine capable of potentially taking down a dragon.
Ultimately, she uses fear and brutality to motivate her team -- so she probably won't be successful in the long term -- but she's having quite a run.
Anyone who thought that Cersei was out of the game now that Dany's on the scene was seriously mistaken. This lion still has claws.
In recent episodes, she's been a vocal presence at gatherings of the Northern families, often calling Jon out. She's finally getting to show off the sharp realist streak she developed from being pushed around and used as a pawn for seasons.
While she understands the game better than anyone else in her family, Sansa has still made it clear that she doesn't have time for the conniving Littlefinger, either.
And now Sansa's truly coming into her own running Winterfell.
She's into the minutiae, for Baelor's sake -- checking on grain storage and suggesting leather additions to the armour.
Any good leader knows that running an organisation isn't just about plotting and big power moves. Often, the devil is in the details.
Food and well-made armour is what's going to help her people survive what's gearing up to be a huge, cold mess.
Jon Snow is the King in the North now. Good for him for sticking to his guns, even when confronted with Daenerys and Tyrion's insistence that he bend the knee. He's clearly got the needs of his people at the top of his mind.
He's also not afraid to take a bold risk, like riding south to meet the Mother of Dragons.
Hopefully, he can manage to avoid some of the pitfalls that honour and bravery led his father/uncle into.
I really loved Tyrion's idea about taking King's Landing and Casterly Rock. I was excited to be a part of it. It sounded elegant. It failed miserably.
Still, I think Tyrion is a great advisor. Probably the most important thing Tyrion's done this season is getting Dany and Jon on the same page regarding mining obsidian. And, in fairness, being able to unite feuding factions under the same banner is the true test of a great leader.
There's also still plenty of time for Tyrion to hatch some more successful schemes.
Daenerys, you're doing amazing.
Yes, the Mother of Dragons has had some pretty major setbacks since rolling across the Narrow Sea with her squad.
So far, she's lost the Greyjoys, Dorne, and the Queen of Thorns. Plus, Grey Worm's capture of Casterly Rock rang hollow when it was revealed most of the Lannister forces are out rampaging in the Reach.
But, hey, you live and learn. Daenerys is a newcomer in Westeros, so mistakes were bound to happen.
And just look at her negotiating with Jon Snow. She's firm, but she dials it down when he doesn't bow before her. She even lets him mine obsidian, even though she clearly doesn't have much faith in his quest (in fairness, 'Come help us fight ice zombies while attempting to win back the Iron Throne!' isn't a super compelling pitch).
She listens to Tyrion's advice, forgives Varys for attempting to kill her a while back, and doesn't just fly off on her dragons when the going gets tough.
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