Characters die frequently in television, whether they are fan favourites, universally despised, forgettable minor characters or anything in between. Game of Thrones is far from an exception, boasting one of the highest body counts of any television series. With so many deaths throughout the series, however, there are going to be some that are more saddening than others, delivering an emotional gut-punch to the loyal viewers, whether due to the circumstances of the death or the shock of seeing such a beloved character exit the series. There have been many such deaths, but these are the ten saddest of the lot, the ten which delivered the biggest emotional gut-punches over the series’ run.
10. Wun Wun
By the time that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) led an army against Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and his forces to reclaim Winterfell in the Battle of the Bastards during Season 6, Wun Wun (Ian Whyte) was presumably the last surviving giant – he was certainly the last to be living amongst the Wildlings. Wun Wun had proven himself fierce, brave, and a loyal ally to Jon by this point, making him an endearing (though still minor) character. In the battle, he kills several of Ramsay’s men with ease, and – while the Knights of the Vale sideswipe the surviving Bolton army – Wun Wun, Jon and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) pursue Ramsay as he retreats to Winterfell.
Wun Wun successfully breaks open Winterfell’s gate, literally opening the door for Jon’s forces to reclaim it, but is heavily wounded by numerous spears and arrows. It is a harrowing moment to see this tower of strength and brute force fall to his knees, exhausted and wounded, with an added layer of poignancy in Jon and Tormund’s expressions of shock and devastation as they watch their dear friend and ally slowly succumb to death, culminating in Ramsay dealing the fatal shot by shooting the giant in the eye. As if we did not already have enough reason to hate Ramsay by this point, and to cheer as a devastated and enraged Jon subsequently beat the sadistic Bolton to a bloody pulp.
9. Myrcella Baratheon
The middle child of Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Myrcella (Nell Tiger-Free) was by all means a minor character, receiving much less focus than the rest of her family, having been shipped off to Dorne in Season 2. Heck, she did not even return for her brother Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) fateful wedding day. In the Season 5 finale, however, she and her “uncle” Jaime boarded a ship back to King’s Landing to protect her from Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma). Their voyage is at first heartwarming – Myrcella reveals to Jaime that she knows that he is her father. Rather than express shock or disgust over his incestuous relationship with Cersei, she expresses joy that she has a loving parent and father whom she respects at last.
However, the tender moment is short-lived, as Myrcella succumbs to a poison which had – unbeknownst to herself and Jaime – been given to her by Ellaria. The suddenness of Myrcella’s death came as a shock, while seeing a scared and devastated Jaime cradle her in his arms as she dies is a poignant moment, particularly as mere seconds earlier he was visibly delighted at the chance to finally be the father that he had always yearned to be. What else makes the death of a minor character so sad is the fact that Myrcella was kind, sweet and innocent – traits that are so rarely found in Game of Thrones characters – and to see that be extinguished during what had been a moment of joy certainly pulls at the heartstrings. Plus, there is always an added layer of poignancy in seeing a child die.
8. Margaery Tyrell
By the time that the Season 6 finale came around, fans had spent the entire season wondering when Cersei would get revenge on the Great Sept of Baelor for forcing her to do the walk of atonement. We all expected it to be shocking and have serious repercussions, but we did not expect to see so many people to be killed as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cersei’s revenge was having the Great Sept destroyed by an almighty wildfire explosion, which also destroyed a good square mile of King’s Landing.
It was a scene full of saddening deaths – seeing numerous innocent civilians get caught in the blast is shocking, as is the harrowing moment where a wounded Brother Lancel (Eugene Simon) realises in his last moments that he was not quick enough to stop the wildfire igniting, having desperately used the last of his strength to try to do so. However, the saddest death of all is that of Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer). Margaery realises that everyone in the Great Sept is in grave danger and tries to get them to leave, which the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) prevents. The final shot of Margaery’s face before the wildfire consumes her, terrified as she realises that she is about to die, is a heartbreaking moment as the viewer is forced to accept that a long-serving and popular character is about to meet her maker, her last noble effort to protect her beloved family having failed.
Viserion, along with his brothers Drogon and Rhaegal, had served as a key plot device since Season 1, being one of the three dragons of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to hatch during the Season 1 finale. Unlike the majority of Game of Thrones characters, these CGI creations grew up on screen, from small hatchlings barely 18 inches long to enormous, yet magnificent beasts that became Daenerys’s personal killing machines. Season 7 particularly emphasised just how strong and magnificent they were, although highlighted that there are weapons capable of killing them. However, it was not until Viserion was killed by the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) that we knew the full extent of such weapons.
When Daenerys and the dragons flew beyond the Wall to save Jon Snow and his party from certain death, Viserion destroyed countless Wights with dragonfire, but a well aimed ice javelin thrown by the Night King mortally wounded him. To see this magnificent beast felled seemingly with such ease, blood and flames gushing from the wound as he lets out a final roar is heartbreaking enough. However, what makes this scene so harrowing are the devastated cries of Drogon and Rhaegal, and also the sight of Daenerys left shocked and numbed by grief and horror, as all they can do is watch as Viserion falls from the sky before sinking beneath the surface of the frozen lake into which he crashed. Furthermore, with Daenerys having been depicted as increasingly cold and power-mad during this season, Viserion’s death gave us a necessary reminder of the heartfelt maternal love that she has within her, and also increased the sense that the Night King is an unstoppable force who poses the greatest threat imaginable on a battlefield.
6. Theon Greyjoy
Had Ramsay Bolton killed Theon (Alfie Allen) back in Season 3, then many Game of Thrones fans would have considered it just desserts after his betrayal of the Stark family in Season 2. However, by the time that Theon joined Jon Snow in the final battle against the Army of the Dead at Winterfell in Season 8, he had undergone a terrific redemption arc, starting with him saving Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) from Ramsay’s clutches in the Season 5 finale. Jon and Sansa had forgiven his betrayal and started to view him as family again, while he had become a commander worthy of respect, and he volunteers himself and the Ironborn to protect Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) in the Godswood, to atone for his previous betrayal of Bran.
This act is in itself heartbreaking for showing that Theon is still unable to forgive himself for the past. During the battle, he and the Ironborn form a protective circle around Bran and battle the Wights, Theon fighting fiercely until he is the last man standing and the Night King arrives to kill Bran. At this moment, Bran says to Theon “You’re a good man. Thank you.” Although exhausted, Theon’s eyes light up as he realises that he has atoned for his past and received Bran’s forgiveness. His redemption arc complete, he charges the Night King, who impales him. While it was a joyful moment to see Theon’s redemption arc complete, to see him die in an act of bravery was heartbreaking as we realise that he will never get to enjoy this new found sense of freedom, of self-forgiveness – a tragic edge to the ending of a tragic figure. Plus, many fans hoped to see him face off against his sadistic uncle Euron (Pilou Asbæk) one final time.
A formidable archer and typical fiery redhead, wildling Ygritte (Rose Leslie) had become a fan favourite character and one half of the series’ most popular pairings (along with Jon Snow) by the time that she was killed off towards the end of Season 4. When the wildlings attack Castle Black, Jon and his brothers of the Night’s Watch engage them in a fierce battle. While the battle itself made for excellent television – not least Jon’s brutal showdown with the enormous wildling Styr (Yuri Kolokolnikov) – the heart of this scene is in the culmination of Jon and Ygritte’s storyline, which makes numerous nods to the history of their relationship.
When Ygritte sees her former lover fighting Styr, the archer has the chance to kill Jon but cannot bring herself to do so, similarly to how she deliberately missed that fatal shot when he abandoned the wildlings to return to Castle Black in Season 3. When the two come face-to-face, it is clear in his expression that Jon does not want to kill her, similarly to how he defied his orders to execute her in Season 2. However, Ygritte is shot through the chest and mortally wounded by young Olly (Brenock O’Connor), and dies in Jon’s arms in a heartbreaking moment that left many viewers reaching for the tissues. Her death is made all the more poignant by the fact that she wishes that they could have stayed in the cave where they first consummated their romance forever, showing clear regret that their romance did not last and could now never be rekindled, before uttering that iconic line of “You know nothing, Jon Snow” one final time. Despite being one of the series’ most heartbreaking deaths, however, this was not the point where “Fuck Olly” became one of the biggest trends on Twitter.
4. Eddard “Ned” Stark
Ah, poor Ned, everyone knew that he was not long for this series. Viewers who had read George R.R. Martin’s novels knew that Ned’s death was going to happen in Season 1 as it is ultimately the catalyst for much of what goes on to happen in the rest of the series, while viewers who were new to Westeros knew that Ned would not last long simply because he was played by Sean Bean. Lord of Winterfell, Lord Paramount and Warden of the North, and Hand of the King to close friend Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), Ned was an honourable man, devoted to his family and loyal to his friends and allies. However, when he is betrayed by Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen), he ends up imprisoned for crimes of treason that he did not commit, which Cersei masterminded as Ned had learnt of the true parentage of her children just before Robert’s death.
Upon the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor, Ned made a false confession to treason and declared Joffrey the rightful king before an enormous crowd of citizens, under the belief that doing so would save his daughter Sansa, while he would merely be exiled. However, the sadistic Joffrey ignored Cersei’s counsel and Sansa’s pleas, ordering for Ned to be executed. In the lead-up to this, there is real poignancy in seeing one so noble be led like a pig to slaughter, made even more so by Ned’s selflessness, as he is more concerned with ensuring that Yoren (Francis Magee) gets his daughter Arya (Maisie Williams) to safety than he is for his own life. It is saddening to see the brave Lord begrudgingly accept his fate in the moments leading to his execution, but the scene is made more harrowing by the sight of a distraught Sansa pleading for him to be spared, and the knowledge that the family who love and respect him (including a wife and six children) will never see him again. As if we did not already have enough reasons to despise Joffrey.
3. Shireen Baratheon
The earlier entry on Myrcella Baratheon mentioned how a child’s death adds an added layer of poignancy, but no child’s death on Game of Thrones (and there have been quite a few) was anywhere near as saddening as that of Myrcella’s “cousin” Shireen (Kerry Ingram). Young Shireen had a very tragic backstory as it was – fourth child of Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald), her older brothers had all been stillborn and, after being scarred by the greyscale that could easily have killed her as an infant, she grew up resented by a mother who had wanted to give Stannis a healthy son. At least Stannis loved her, as did his most trusted advisor – Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). However, it was not Shireen’s health problems that led to her death, rather her mother’s fanatical devotion to Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) and the Lord of Light.
When the Baratheons and their troops are stranded by a snowstorm, Melisandre convinces Stannis to sacrifice Shireen to the Lord of Light so that they may proceed and survive. He reluctantly agrees and Shireen is tied to a pyre, at which a remorseless Melisandre burns her alive. To see such a kind, innocent character, and also one so young die would be saddening enough, but to see her suffer such a horrific death makes for one huge gut-punch. Shireen’s death is made especially harrowing by her screams of terror and pain, her pleading with her parents to save her, and the sight of her distraught mother realising too late that she wants her daughter to survive. Furthermore, despite Shireen being a minor character, the repercussions of her death were felt for a long time afterwards. A guilt-ridden Selyse hanged herself, while half of Stannis’s army deserted in disgust, leading to the Bolton army easily defeating what was left of his forces and leaving a broken Stannis to be executed. Shireen’s death also left Davos distraught and determined to avenge Shireen by executing Melisandre, and he has never fully recovered from losing somebody whom he loved like a daughter.
Known as such because “Hodor” was the only word that he was capable of saying, Hodor (Kristian Nairn) was a servant of House Stark at Winterfell when the series began. He was in many ways a typical gentle giant – seven feet tall, capable of feats of great strength, kind-hearted but very simple-minded and quite childlike (most notably seen in his fear of thunder). Despite this, his loyalty to the Starks, who treat him like family, was unquestionable, and he carried Bran everywhere on his back after the Stark boy was left a paraplegic. Many viewers assumed that Hodor had simply been born with a mental handicap that had left him simple-minded and childlike, that was until Bran has visions into Hodor’s past during Season 6, seeing that Hodor was once an articulate and popular stablehand named Wylis (Sam Coleman) during his youth.
One night in the present-day, however, Bran’s trips to the past alert the Night King to their location, and Hodor is forced to hold a door shut as numerous Wights tear him apart while trying to break through it, while Meera (Ellie Kendrick) gets Bran to safety. While Meera pleads with Hodor to “hold the door”, Bran has a vision into Hodor’s youth as Wylis, where he inadvertently wargs into young Wylis’s mind, causing the stable-hand to suffer a seizure as he experiences his future death, repeating over and over the words that the present-day Hodor is hearing from Meera, until “hold the door” slurs into “Hodor”. Through Bran’s reckless warging, Wylis becomes the simple-minded and monotonous Hodor. This is a truly heartbreaking moment, as the viewers realise that Hodor’s entire life had always been destined for an act of heroism that would cost him his life, and that that was precisely what we are watching as Hodor valiantly sacrificed himself to save Bran and Meera. It was a tearjerking moment to say the least, which left fans wincing whenever they heard the words “Hold the door” for months afterwards.
1. The Red Wedding
Okay, so for the infamous Red Wedding to top this list was no doubt predictable, but it’s more than earned it. The massacre which Walder Frey (David Bradley) arranged delivered a barrage of emotional gut-punches that left viewers feeling shocked and saddened to the core. It is a rare example of a series of deaths happening in quick succession where each one is sadder than the one before. Firstly, there is Talisa Stark (Oona Chaplin) being fatally stabbed in the womb, her unborn child being instantly killed as she begins to bleed to death. To see Talisa be stabbed so mercilessly would not be that shocking (this is Game of Thrones, after all), were it not for the fact that nothing can prepare you for the realisation that an unborn child has just been killed without remorse.
Next, there’s her husband Robb (Richard Madden), who has already been wounded by crossbow bolts. Despite his injuries, he crawls to Talisa’s side as she takes her final breath, which leaves him devastated, so numbed by grief he doesn’t even put up a fight when Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) stabs him through the heart. Despite his flaws, Robb was a noble, brave and strong character, beloved by fans, so to see him so broken, so numb with grief that he has lost all fight is devastating for viewers. And finally, the peak of this mountain of emotional television – Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley). Witnessing her son, daughter-in-law and unborn grandchild be slaughtered so mercilessly leaves the usually fierce and headstrong Stark matriarch completely distraught, screaming in despair and becoming catatonic from grief, with Fairley giving a powerhouse performance of raw emotion. Fairley’s turn is truly harrowing to watch, as is the fateful moment where Catelyn’s throat is slit as she seemingly accepts her fate, made even more saddening when the viewer realises that Catelyn died unaware that her youngest sons Bran and Rickon (Art Parkinson) were still alive. As such, the Red Wedding became infamous and is Game of Thrones at its most emotional, leaving millions of fans worldwide reaching for the tissues.