The Most Tragic ‘Game of Thrones’ Character Deaths, Ranked

The first rule of watching HBO’s Game of Thrones is to never let yourself become attached to any character. In the game of thrones, you win or you die and unfortunately for the characters of Westeros, no one is safe. George R.R. Martin, the author of the Game of Thrones novels, has even joked about killing off all of the characters and having the final novel in the series be a lengthy description of snow and wind flowing across the characters’ graves.

With all things considered, Game of Thrones is a very cruel show, especially to its fans. While some deaths in Game of Thrones are cathartic and rewarding, others cause fans immeasurable amounts of heartbreak. Keep reading for a trip down memory lane as we remember some of the most tragic, heartbreaking character deaths of Game of Thrones.

Kit Harington
Kit Harington | Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

10. Jon Snow

All Jon Snow had ever wanted was to be stationed on The Wall as a member of the Night’s Watch. He eventually did get his wish, but that wish came at a heavy price.

Jon was betrayed and stabbed to death repeatedly by each of the men Jon considered to be his brothers. The other Night’s Watch members sought vengeance against Jon for forming an alliance with the wildlings, the free folk who live north of The Wall. As punishment and revenge, The Night’s Watch took turns brutally stabbing Jon while repeating, “For the watch.”

Jon’s death is on the lower end of the list because Melisandre brought him back to life in Season 6, claiming that the Lord of Light had a plan for him. Still, at the time, the scene was absolutely shocking and fans were horrified and heartbroken to see Jon Snow die at the hands of his former friends and allies.

Sean Bean
Sean Bean | Courtest of HBO

9. Ned Stark

When Ned Stark was executed at the end of Season 1, fans knew that Game of Thrones was not messing around with plot armor. For the majority of the first season, we saw Westeros through Ned’s eyes, we followed him as he investigated the death of Jon Arryn after becoming Hand of the King, and his sense of duty and honor. In the end, it was his sense of duty and honor that got him killed.

After discovering Cersei Lannister’s incestuous affair with her twin brother and ordering her to leave the city, Cersei had Ned imprisoned for treason with the intention of sending him to The Wall to serve The Night’s Watch. However, Cersei’s son Joffrey, having just inherited the throne after Robert Baratheon’s death, had different ideas. Joffrey had Ned Stark executed in front of his daughters.

In the world of Westeros, values like loyalty and honor are a long-forgotten language. Ned Stark’s inability to sacrifice his honorable nature cost him his life.

Nathalie Emmanuel
Nathalie Emmanuel | Photo: Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

8. Missandei

After being a slave for most of her life, Missandei’s life seemed to change for the better after she was freed from her bonds by Daenerys Targaryen. Missandei was Daenerys’ most loyal, trusted friend, having served as her personal handmaiden, translator, and advisor for quite some time. Unlike many of Daenerys’ other allies, Missandei’s faith and loyalty toward Daenerys never wavered.

She also developed a strong connection and romance with the leader of Daenerys’ army of Unsullied, Grey Worm.

Her genuine friendship and love for both Daenerys and Grey Worm made her death all the more heartbreaking. She died, bound again in chains, at the order of Cersei Lannister, who ordered Daenerys to surrender and end her conquest for the Iron Throne. Missandei’s final words, “Dracarys”, quite literally sparked a flame that would erupt into Daenerys’ descent into madness.

Rose Leslie on Game of Thrones
Rose Leslie | Courtesy of HBO

7. Ygritte

Ygritte was right. She and Jon should have stayed in the cave together.

Jon and Ygritte were star-crossed lovers, doomed to fail because of their backgrounds. She is a wildling and he is a man of The Night’s Watch. The two are meant to be enemies. However, Jon grew closer to Ygritte during his time living among the wildlings and the pair eventually fell in love. They did have a stormy relationship, however, as Ygritte attempted to kill Jon several times.

During the wildlings’ attack on Castle Black, Jon and Ygritte lock eyes. For only a moment, she aims her bow at Jon. Before she has the chance to fire, she is shot with an arrow and killed by Olly. With her final words, Ygritte expresses regret for leaving the cave where the pair reached the height of their romance. She then dies, and our hearts are broken.

Alfie Allen
Alfie Allen | Photo: Macall B. Polay/Courtesy of HBO

6. Theon Greyjoy

No other Game of Thrones character had quite the evolution as Theon Greyjoy did. When we first met Theon, he was an ill-tempered, mean-spirited ward of House Stark in Winterfell. Once the majority of the Stark family traveled south to handle the turmoil in King’s Landing, Theon betrayed the family that raised him and seized Winterfell for House Greyjoy and himself.

Theon changed after being physically and psychologically tormented by the sadistic Ramsay Bolton. The Greyjoy redeemed himself by saving Sansa Stark from her monstrous husband, Bolton, and later sacrificed his life in the battle against the White Walkers to save Bran’s life. Before Theon died, Bran spoke the words that every Game of Thrones fan felt in their hearts: “You’re a good man. Thank you.”

Michelle Fairley
Michelle Fairley | Courtesy of HBO

5. The victims of The Red Wedding

With the infamous Red Wedding scene being one of the most bloody, memorable mass murders of recent television history, it only makes sense to give all of the victims their own spot on the list. Throughout the show, House Stark continues to experience tragedy after tragedy. The greatest tragedy, however, takes place toward the end of Game of Thrones Season 3 when Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark, and his new wife Talisa Stark meet a grisly end.

In order for Robb to gain passage through the Greek Fork to attack the Lannister forces, he had to promise to marry one of the daughters of Lord Walder Frey. While Robb goes through with the promise, he falls in love with a woman named Talisa and marries her instead, breaking his oath to House Frey.

As an act of retaliation, Walder Frey joins forces with House Lannister and House Bolton to cripple House Stark in a way that the North will never forget. The bloodbath came to be known as The Red Wedding after the amount of innocent blood that was spilled, including that of Talisa’s unborn child. In the end, Catelyn only wanted what was best for her children and Robb only wanted to marry for love. Love turned out to be the family’s very undoing.

Iain Glen
Iain Glen | Photo: Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

4. Ser Jorah Mormont

At first, it wasn’t clear if Jorah Mormont was a character to be trusted. After all, he was enlisted by King Robert Baratheon to spy on Daenerys Targaryen and report on her whereabouts so that Baratheon could have her executed, eliminating the last living Targaryen (or so they thought.) However, love came before duty as Jorah continually proved his love and loyalty to the mother of dragons. From the time Daenerys was introduced in Season 1, Jorah was right by her side, aiding her with guidance and friendship.

Unlike many Game of Thrones characters who meet their untimely death because of circumstances beyond their control, Jorah died defending the woman he considers to be his true queen, which is the most fitting way for his story to end. Jorah defied death several times, having once saved himself from the fatal disease greyscale, in order to continue serving at Daenerys’ side.

He died a hero, defending Daenerys until the very end of the Battle of Winterfell against the army of White Walkers. He was hopelessly in love with Daenerys from the very beginning, so it seems only right that he spent his final moments dying in her arms.

Kristian Nairn
Kristian Nairn | Courtesy of HBO

3. Hodor

After Hodor’s heartbreaking death in Game of Thrones Season 6, it’s very unlikely that a fan of the fantasy-drama can hear the phrase “Hold the door” without feeling chills and maybe shedding a tear. In a twisted world of dangerous characters killing and betraying one another to reach the top, Hodor was a loyal, innocent man who worked tirelessly to keep Bran safe and is only capable of repeating one word, “Hodor.”

It doesn’t seem right or fair that one of the show’s most innocent characters should meet such a gruesome, undeserved fate, but Game of Thrones is famously cruel to its fanbase. During one of Bran’s field trips into the past with the Three-Eyed Raven, he accidentally came in contact with a young Hodor in Winterfell. At that time, Hodor’s name was Wylis and he didn’t have a mental disability.

Bran warged into Wylis, causing the young boy to have a seizure and develop an intellectual impairment that only allowed him to repeat the word, “Hodor”, which is later revealed to be short for “Hold the door”, the final sacrifice Hodor makes to save Bran and Meera from being killed by White Walkers. Hodor died a hero, blocking the army of White Walkers for enough time to allow Bran and Meera to escape.

Emilia Clarke
Emilia Clarke | Courtesy of HBO

2. Daenerys Targaryen

The tragic, almost Shakespearean fate of Daenerys Targaryen was one of the main plot points that caused fans to loathe the show’s finale. As a matter of fact, Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys, admitted that learning the character’s fate brought her to tears.

When we first meet Daenerys, she is a timid, child-like woman who only wants to return home to Dragonstone. Throughout the series, we watch her grow up as a character and begin to radiate with a queen-like glow of confidence and strength to take her rightful place on the Iron Throne. Her descent into infamous Targaryen madness led to her ultimate downfall.

After suffering the loss of nearly everyone close to her and losing the love of her romantic interest and nephew, Jon Snow, Daenerys finally snapped. The mother of dragons killed hundreds of innocents by burning King’s Landing to the ground out of revenge for Missandei’s execution.

After Jon Snow realizes the woman he fell in love with is no longer in touch with reality and on her way to becoming the most dangerous tyrant Westeros has ever seen, he plunges a dagger into her chest, reassuring her that she will always be his queen. The worst part? After fighting for her place on the Iron Throne for eight seasons, Daenerys never has the chance to sit on the throne before she dies.

Hannah Murray
Hannah Murray | Photo: Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

1. Shireen Baratheon

Of all the deaths in Game of Thrones, the sacrifice of Stannis Baratheon’s young daughter Shireen remains the most disturbing and haunting death of all. Shireen’s death was almost as tragic as her very short life. She was unloved and neglected by both of her parents and suffered from a permanent facial deformity after surviving a nearly fatal case of greyscale. Even though her life was fraught with pain and neglect, Shireen maintained a gentle and kind demeanor, making her death all the more tragic.

Shireen’s final action and biggest mistake came in the form of offering to help her father earn his place on the Iron Throne by any means necessary. Unfortunately for Shireen, the priestess Melisandre convinced Stannis that in order to reach his destiny, he would have to sacrifice his daughter by burning her at the stake.

Shireen’s death is extremely difficult to watch, not because of any gore or violence on screen, but because of the young girl’s desperate pleas for her mother and father to rescue her from such a horrific death. In the end, Shireen’s brutal sacrifice didn’t improve anything for Stannis in the grand scheme of the show, so the young girl died for nothing. The fact that Shireen’s screams of fear and agony will never be unheard by Game of Thrones fans makes her death the most tragic out of the many deaths in the series.

Read more: ‘Game of Thrones’: Why the Series Isn’t Actually Coming to an End According to George R.R. Martin