Game of Thrones is easily one of the biggest television series of all-time and also one of the most shocking of all-time. It is a series filled with betrayals and bloodshed, battles and politics, and countless characters (both major and minor) being killed off in brutal fashion over the course of 8 seasons and 73 episodes. With all of this betrayal, bloodshed and politics come a variety of antagonists, some of whom only make a few appearances here and there, others of whom are main characters.
These are the 10 best antagonists from Game of Thrones, the antagonists who have been the most sinister and have served as the greatest threats during the series’ run. These are antagonists through and through, so one-time antagonists who underwent redemption arcs – such as Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) – will not be found here.
10. Euron Greyjoy
Family is an interesting theme in Game of Thrones. Some characters value family more than anything else, others pick and choose the relatives whom they value. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), however, has zero regard for his family. While a little pantomimic at times, Euron is nevertheless a cruel, volatile and power-hungry man who takes great pleasure in the suffering of others. In Season 6, he becomes King of the Iron Islands, which he accomplished by murdering his older brother Balon (Patrick Malahide).
Euron’s cruelty, however, is most visible in his treatment of Balon’s children. He takes pleasure in ridiculing Theon over his castration, knocking what little confidence Theon had been able to regain. However, Euron’s cruelty to Balon’s children peaks in Season 7 when he gleefully takes Yara (Gemma Whelan) hostage, in an act which reflects just how dishonourable he is and that his regard for family is non-existent.
9. Walder Frey
Of all of the antagonists on this list, Walder Frey (David Bradley) is the one to have appeared the least in the series, making a total of five guest appearances. However, it is a testament to both the screenwriting and David Bradley’s wonderfully cold and sinister performance that Frey is such a memorable and significant antagonist. Lord of Riverrun and a tyrannical man who is loathed throughout the Seven Kingdoms for many reasons (not least his total disregard for oaths), Frey will forever be remembered for orchestrating the Red Wedding in Season 3.
Having Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), her son Robb (Richard Madden), daughter-in-law Talisa (Oona Chaplin) and unborn grandchild murdered in cold blood, in the most harrowing scene of the entire series, Frey displayed a cold, sadistic and unforgiving nature that made him an unforgettable and universally despised antagonist. Three seasons later, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) avenged her family by murdering him in what is easily one of the most satisfying revenge kills in television history.
8. Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
Nicknamed “The Mountain” for his very muscular frame and great height of over seven feet, when Clegane first appears in Season 1 (then played by Conan Stevens), it is established that he is incredibly strong and a fearsome soldier, but is also dimwitted, with a short temper and no sense of honour or fair play. It is also revealed that he has always had a sadistic streak as, when they were children, he burned his brother Sandor’s face because Sandor played with one of his toys without asking. However, the true extent of his sadism is not revealed until Season 4, when Clegane (now played by strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) takes pleasure in telling Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) that he raped and murdered his sister, and also murdered her children, as he crushes Oberyn’s skull with his hands.
After being wounded with a poisoned spear by Oberyn during the trial by combat which cost Oberyn his life, Clegane is experimented on by Qyburn (Anton Lesser), whose experiment essentially turns him into a zombie – not quite dead, yet not quite alive. Clegane then becomes Queensguard to Cersei (Lena Headey), but the experiment also makes him stronger than ever. While he tends to only act on the orders of Cersei and Qyburn, when Clegane does act independently he is shown to be an even more brutal killer than before, who feels no qualms about ripping a man’s head clean off with his bare hands. From Season 5 onwards, he is easily the most menacing presence in the series, and in many scenes viewers are left wondering whether he is about to kill again, either on orders or out of a sense of sadistic pleasure. By the time that he faced Sandor in the deadly Cleganebowl during the penultimate episode, fans were very excited to finally see Clegane fight somebody who could hold their own against him.
Qyburn’s backstory alone is enough to indicate that he is quite a sinister and fearsome antagonist, as he was evicted from the Order of Maesters for conducting illegal human experimentation. This backstory ultimately foreshadowed what fans would come to remember him most for – performing the experiment that turned Gregor Clegane into a zombie. Although, in a case of Frankenstein being killed by his own Monster, Qyburn’s fascination with human experimentation ultimately led to his death in the series’ penultimate episode. Until that moment, however, he was a sinister figure and, along with Cersei, one of only two people in the world who Clegane would take orders from, which alone was enough to make him a serious threat.
With a brilliant mind, Qyburn is just as ruthless as he is sinister. His loyalty to Cersei is unquestionable after she appoints him Master of Whisperers on the small council in Season 5, before making him her Lord Hand after the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor in the Season 6 finale. While Cersei was ultimately the one behind this destruction, it could not have been executed if Qyburn and the Little Birds (whose loyalty he had bought) not caused the wildfire leaks and set up the candles that would cause that devastating explosion. Before the Great Sept’s destruction, Qyburn also had the Little Birds brutally kill Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), but not before he had apologised to Pycelle for his impending death. Never had an apology sounded more creepier than it did when coming from Qyburn, and his latter status as Cersei’s Hand only made her a more formidable threat, as he was her only advisor who was as ruthless as her, and also more clever than her.
6. Tywin Lannister
Lord of Casterly Rock, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) was father to Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). As one of the most powerful and wealthy men in the Seven Kingdoms, Tywin is one of the most revered people in the world, and held enough authority to send his grandson – King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) – to bed. However, wealth and power had not bought Tywin happiness. He was a cold and calculated individual, who held his children in little regard, but none less so than Tyrion, whose birth had caused the death of his beloved wife. While Tywin despised Tyrion, he still recognised Tyrion’s incredible intellect and cunningly gave the dwarf whom he despised titles and a betrothal to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), all for the benefit of House Lannister.
However, while Tywin came across as a charming man who did right by his children, that was all a facade as he had neglected them throughout their childhood. Furthermore, his backstory reveals just how unjustly cruel he could be as, prior to the series, he was so unhappy with Tyrion’s choice of bride (Tysha) that he had their marriage annulled and forced Tyrion to watch as his guards gang-raped her. This backstory foreshadowed just how significant a plot point Tywin’s hate for his youngest son would be, which culminated in him using Tyrion’s arrest for Joffrey’s murder as a chance to get rid him once and for all, despite knowing that Tyrion was innocent. If that does not testify to how cruel and malevolent an antagonist Tywin really was, then what does? Needless to say, it was a highly satisfying moment when Tyrion finally got his revenge in the Season 4 finale.
5. The Night King
Far north beyond the Wall, great numbers of reanimated corpses known as Wights had formed the Army of the Dead, the lieutenants of which were Wight Walkers and the supreme leader of which was the Night King, a legendary figure who was thousands of years old. The Night King first appears in Season 4 (played by Richard Brake) when Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has a vision. This vision establishes that the Night King is literally as cold and heartless as ice, as he expresses no emotion and has no qualms about turning an infant into a Wight Walker with a mere touch. From there, the threat of the Night King continued to grow, with the reality of him becoming inescapable for Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Wildlings in Season 5, when the Night King reanimates the fallen defenders of Hardhome into Wights before their very eyes.
In Season 6, the Night King (now played by Vladimir Furdik) marks Bran when the latter has a vision of the past, meaning that there will always be a connection between them. The threat of the Night King is then increased even more in Season 7, when he kills the dragon Viserion with a single javelin before reanimating the magnificent beast. By Season 8, the Night King was the greatest possible threat imaginable, and there could be no doubt as to just how cold he was on the inside. Bran – now the Three-Eyed Raven – explained that the Night King wanted to kill him to rid the world of memory, and also use his armies and powers to make humanity extinct. No other antagonist wanted to bring extinction to humanity, no other antagonist posed such a looming threat, and no other antagonist was anywhere near as cold as the Night King.
4. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
The nickname “Littlefinger” implies a degree of creepiness, but nothing can quite prepare you for just how genuinely creepy Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) really is. A sly, cunning man, Baelish is one of the most manipulative and two-faced characters in the entire series, using his ability to read people to his advantage. While he aims to mask his true nature behind a smile, his cold eyes never have that smile or warmth of his mouth, giving him an inescapable sense of creepiness that never lets up. Baelish enjoys having a sense of power, and will commit any heinous deed that he deems necessary in order to obtain that power.
His heinous deeds include orchestrating the death of Jon Arryn (John Standing), which served as the catalyst for the War of the Five Kings, before marrying and then murdering Jon’s widow Lysa (Kate Dickie), which gained him the title Lord Protector of the Vale. His two-sided nature became most apparent towards the end of Season 1, when he betrayed Ned Stark (Sean Bean), saying “I did warn you not to trust me” as he held a knife to Ned’s throat – a betrayal which led to Ned’s execution. While he managed to conceal the truth of his crimes until the Season 7 finale, when Bran – now the Three-Eyed Raven – exposed him, his manipulative nature remained, as he used Sansa to have some influence over House Stark. Needless to say, the exposure of his crimes and eventual execution were a long time coming, by which point fans had spent six years wondering how long Baelish would get away with his crimes for.
3. Joffrey Baratheon
Forget being the most universally despised character in Game of Thrones, Joffrey is one of the most universally despised characters in all of television. From his first appearance in Season 1, Joffrey is shown to be a cold, arrogant and cruel sadist, who regards his uncle Tyrion (“The Imp”) as his inferior and hates it when he does not get his own way. Ultimately this is not totally Joffrey’s fault, as his “father” Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) had little input in his upbringing, while his mother Cersei showed him favouritism and turned a blind eye to his true nature and all but his worst deeds. When Joffrey became the King upon the Iron Throne, following Robert’s death, he immediately establishes himself to be a dishonorable King by going back on his word and having Ned Stark executed.
Ned’s execution would be the start of an awful reign on Joffrey’s part. He ignores the commoners’ needs, orders his Kingsguard to beat Sansa Stark, has the City Watch kill Robert’s various bastards so that his place on the throne would never be challenged and takes great pleasure in belittling Tyrion at every opportunity. In Season 2, Joffrey’s true cowardice is revealed at the Battle of Blackwater, where he proves himself an ineffective leader and ends up leaving the battlefield. In Season 3, he disgusts Tyrion and his grandfather Tywin when he gleefully suggests that they serve Sansa her brother Robb’s head, following the Red Wedding. This led to Tywin sending Joffrey to bed, and that moment perfectly encapsulates why, despite all of his sadistic and horrifying deeds, Joffrey is not higher on this list. This moment reflects the fact that he is ultimately a child, and not a very bright one at that, whose decisions stem from the giant chip on his shoulder, rather than rational thought.
2. Ramsay Bolton
A product of rape, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) is the bastard son of Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), the man who delivered Robb Stark the fatal stab to the heart at the Red Wedding. No wonder that Ramsay turned out to be a narcissistic sociopath, a man who took great pleasure in the pain of others and never felt guilt or remorse for his own actions. Regarded by all as pure evil, Ramsay became universally despised for sharing the same traits as Joffrey Baratheon, but what makes Ramsay a better antagonist than Joffrey is the fact that Ramsay is far more calculating in the cruel and sadistic decisions that he makes, whereas Joffrey is simply rash and hot-headed. Ramsay’s true nature is best exemplified in Season 3, when he tortures and castrates Theon Greyjoy, until Theon is a quivering wreck who only responds to Ramsay’s new nickname for him – “Reek”. He would continue to take great pleasure in tormenting Theon throughout Seasons 4 and 5.
Ramsay’s sadistic streak did not end at Theon though, as he raped Sansa Stark on their wedding night, and took great pleasure in tormenting young Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson) before the epic Battle of the Bastards in Season 6. His cold demeanour came through even more in that battle, when he willingly and uncaringly let his own men get caught in his archers’ line of fire. Furthermore, he is shown to have just as little regard for his family as Euron Greyjoy has. He takes great pleasure in murdering his father to become Head of House Bolton in Season 6, before feeding (alive) his stepmother (Elizabeth Webster) and newborn half-brother to his hungry hounds, so that his new position would never be challenged, emphasising just how much Ramsay loves power, but ultimately foreshadowing his eventual demise. Few moments in Game of Thrones were quite as satisfying as when Sansa got her revenge by feeding Ramsay to his own hungry hounds after the Battle of the Bastards, ending his reign of terror once and for all.
1. Cersei Lannister
When Cersei first appears in the series’ pilot episode, she at first appears to be the loving wife of King Robert Baratheon. However, the episode ends with little Bran Stark catching Cersei having sex with her twin brother Jaime, and she convinces Jaime that Bran must be silenced, leading to him pushing the boy from the tower window. This shows that Cersei would go to any lengths to protect her dirty secrets, which is further emphasised when Ned Stark learns that Jaime is the biological father of her three children, and she orchestrates his arrest for treason so that the secret may stay safe. Following Robert’s death during a hunting trip, Cersei shows her lust for power when she quickly gets Joffrey instated as King, and herself instated as his chief political advisor and Queen Regent (in the hopes of reigning through Joffrey).
By the end of Season 1, she had been shown to be clever, manipulative, calculating, ruthless, hateful and politically-minded, attributes which would define her character for the rest of the series’ run. In Season 4, she was left devastated by Joffrey’s horrific death and, despite her implied uncertainty of his guilt, manipulates Tyrion’s trial so that he would be found guilty and she could finally be rid of the little brother whom she despises. After being forced by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) to do the Walk of Atonement in the Season 5 finale, she got her revenge in the Season 6 finale by orchestrating the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, which killed thousands, including countless civilians. Furthermore, she is consistently seen to think of the civilians of King’s Landing as inferior to her, and would let them into the Red Keep in Season 8, solely in an effort to dissuade Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) from unleashing dragonfire upon her.
The key difference between Cersei and antagonists such as Joffrey and Ramsay is that Cersei has one redeeming quality – her love for her children, a quality which Jaime and Tyrion would both commend her for. However, despite her unconditional love for her children, she was far from a perfect parent. The fact that she showed favouritism to Joffrey and chose to turn a blind eye to his true nature and all but his most horrific deeds is why he grew up to be so childish and sadistic. Her daughter Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) grew to resent Cersei for investing so little time in getting to know her, and was much happier when she lived in Dorne and was free from her mother’s control. And after her daughter-in-law Margaery (Natalie Dormer) was killed in the destruction of the Great Sept, Cersei did not even go to be with her son Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), who proceeded to commit suicide.
When Cersei was subsequently crowned Queen of King’s Landing, she did not even seem that phased by Tommen’s death, and it is indicated that Jaime wonders whether part of her motivation in orchestrating the destruction of the Great Sept was so that she would ultimately become Queen. Towards the end of Season 7, Jaime and Tyrion learn that Cersei is pregnant with Jaime’s child, meaning that she had a final chance of being a parent. However, she even resorted to using that child. Having used sex to manipulate Euron Greyjoy into securing an allegiance with her, she later lied to him that he was the father of the child in order to cement that allegiance. In short, Cersei tops this list because she not only served as the most manipulative and ruthless antagonist throughout the series, but her selfish and antagonistic nature shines through even her sole redeeming quality, her own self-interests being her sole priority in even the most dire situations.