This post contains spoilers through A Storm of Swords or season four!
One of the best things about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones) is the complexity of the characters. Very few of them are entirely good or entirely evil; rather, they’re just doing what they think is best for their own wellbeing and that of their families.
Of course, many other stories, such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, have such characters. But A Song of Ice and Fire is unique. It doesn’t have just one or two morally-gray characters – it has, well… hundreds? I have no idea how many characters total it has, but it’s a lot, and probably ninety percent of them are flawed to the point where I wouldn’t trust them in real life.
Consider House Tyrell. Because they’re my favorite, I want them to win the Iron Throne. (I think the Starks or Targaryens are more likely to rule in the end, but that’s a subject for another time.) They tend to be one of the nicer families in the Seven Kingdoms, rather Hufflepuffian, but it’s all relative – one time they poisoned someone at the person’s own wedding. I love Loras, Margaery, Olenna, and the rest but I won’t pretend that they never play dirty.
Arya Stark is another useful example. She’s the darling of the fandom, but is headed down an increasingly darker path.
Clearly, in A Song of Ice and Fire a character’s bad/questionable deeds are not necessarily an impediment to loving them. But just out of curiosity, are there any good people in this story? Truly good, not just “good enough”?
Let’s start with the obvious – Ned Stark immediately springs to mind. He’s very loyal and interested in doing what is honorable, to the point where other characters made fun of him for it. To the point where telling the truth cost him his life and plunged his country into war. Sometimes even good deeds have bad consequences – see, this is why I love the series. So much complexity, so many topics to think about until my head hurts.
Most of the Starks are decent, honest people but since I’m only interested in those who are exemplary, I would like to talk about Sansa Stark next. She is as devoted to being (stereotypically) ladylike as her father was to being honorable, so you won’t find her murdering, maiming, and blackmailing as many of the other characters do. She’s quite sweet, even around some of the most villainous characters. It’s remarkable, considering how many horrible things she’s been through.
The Tyrells were not my original first choice for rulers of the Seven Kingdoms – Renly Baratheon was. At best, he was only a secondary character, but he had a wonderful personality. Intelligent, brave, kind, always light-hearted and joking. Unfortunately, he had idealistic visions of both himself and war, and didn’t last very long at all. [Cue sounds of Engie sobbing.]
In addition to having the good qualities mentioned above, Renly also had excellent taste in boyfriends: Loras Tyrell. He’s such a minor character but I might as well include him because in A Song of Ice and Fire it’s so rare for neither member of a couple to be dysfunctional. Because he’s freaking called the Knight of Flowers – gallant and heroic, yes, but also a total dork. Good for comic relief. I giggled so much during the scene in which he’s so busy making eyes at Oberyn Martell that he doesn’t notice Jaime right behind him and turns around and crashes into him.
Speaking of Oberyn Martell… OBERYN MARTELL OBERYN MARTELL OBERYN MARTELL. He doesn’t even appear until book three / season four, and is gone after just a few chapters, but it’s impossible to not like him. Hence, my fangirling. (Also, next Sunday’s episode means goodbye, Oberyn. So I’m fangirling while I still can.) His duel with Gregor Clegane (which is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series) also makes me think: Does Oberyn still count as a good guy even though he wanted vengeance so badly? I mean, Clegane killed his sister. Was that the right thing to do, or does an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” mentality just make things worse?
(Can you tell that I like Oberyn? Just a little?)
Some of you will probably be disappointed that I didn’t include Jon Snow, but I’d rather talk about his friend
Samwise Gamgee Samwell Tarly. I’m pretty sure that Sam is my Westerosi equivalent. (Unless I’m Loras, well-meaning but a total dork and very very gay. You tell me which one I’m most like!) He has the personality and appearance of a pillow – large and soft and squishy and lovable. A pillow would never hurt anyone. On the other hand, pillows are not good warriors.
Up next is Jaime Lannister and true to form, George R.R. Martin gives us yet another complicated character. By the third book he’s one of the most decent guys in the series but, well, that’s by the third book. He pushed a kid out of a window once, and then there’s the whole having-children-with-his-sister thing. Without this complexity Jaime wouldn’t be nearly as fascinating but if his entire past is considered, he doesn’t quite make the cut. He deserves to be part of this list, of course, but he’s not the best person mentioned here.
Last but not least is Brienne of Tarth, one of the few women on this list and a female knight (a very rare thing in Westerosi culture). Several other members of this list are also knights – Loras and Jaime – but Brienne takes her job extremely seriously. She’s very loyal and determined and always tries her hardest, despite being mocked by nearly everyone. Brienne and Jaime make a formidable team.
Wow. I feel much better about the world of A Song of Ice and Fire now, having added up all the good people. In fact, I feel so good that I’ll share a happy, relevant song here: Rihanna and the main theme from Game of Thrones.
Does the male singer in her music video for “Stay” remind anyone else of Loras? That knight looks like he could totally be in a boy band.
Anyway. Back to my post-wrap-up-thing. I still wouldn’t want to live there – no indoor plumbing, and its inhabitants do some pretty nasty things to one another – but there are eight whole characters with whom I think I could feel safe. I realize that I’ve left off some big names like Jon Snow, Catelyn Stark, and Bran Stark, but this list is made up of my personal opinions.
If I had to pick the top three, they would be Sansa, Brienne, and Renly. If I’m being realistic, though, I’d hang out with Sansa and Brienne, bemoaning Renly’s death – and that lack of indoor plumbing. Together, we could be forces for good and make the Seven Kingdoms better by putting modern sinks and toilets in each and every castle!
I’m sorry. This post has gone really off-topic, hasn’t it?
Are there any characters you would like to add to my list? Any analyses that you disagree with? And stay tuned for the follow-up post – in a few days I plan to write about the most evil characters in A Song of Ice and Fire!