HBO’s fantasy megahit “Game of Thrones” is littered with betrayals, beheadings and no shortage of other brutalities, all in the name of sitting on the Iron Throne.
There’s no denying the game is brutal, but it’s clear to any fan that some characters play far dirtier than others.
With the series heading into its penultimate season Sunday, the scattered players are still left on the board headed toward an all-out war.
In honor of what one can only hope will be an epic battle, we look back on the worst of the worst by ranking the vilest, evilest characters in the series’ history.
All of them have played to win, but that doesn’t mean they've played fair.
7. The Night King
The Night King — leader of the fearsome, frosty White Walkers straight out of Westeros’ most terrifying bedtime stories — is more a force of nature than he is cunning political move-maker. So, to call him “the worst” is a bit like getting mad at a tornado, even if they are equally destructive. But there is no denying that this pale-skinned, blue-eyed shade from beyond The Wall is headed south with an army of the living dead at his back, determined to bring about a winter that lasts an eternity. If The Night King’s casual resurrection of countless corpses at the end of the fifth season's brutal “Hardhome” is any indication, the sooner everyone in Westeros stops squabbling over a pointy chair and starts focusing on the real threat, the better.
6. Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
This violent-tempered, freakishly large knight would still be considered one of the vilest villains to lumber his way through "GOT" even if smashing the head of the endlessly charismatic Oberyn Martell was his only accomplishment. But the skull-crushing finale of the fourth season’s “The Mountain and the Viper” was just the pinnacle of The Mountain’s cruel career as the Lannister family’s personal monster. After all, when you start off holding your younger brother’s head in a fire over a toy soldier, it can only get worse from there. Unfortunately, even death itself couldn’t dull Gregor’s mean streak. Revived by the master Qyburn as the shambling zombie shell known as Robert Strong, The Mountain certainly speaks less these days, but hasn’t lost a step when it comes to dishing out a skull crack or two.
5. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
Never underestimate the strength of a man with an unquestionable thirst for power. At this point, Petyr Baelish — brothel owner by day, silver-tongued manipulator by night — has hopped between allegiances so often that every word uttered from underneath his pencil-thin mustache sounds like a lie. Although, his meddling does have its benefits: Littlefinger stabbing Ned Stark in the first season led to the beheading heard around the world in “Baelor.” The moment launched “Game of Thrones” from HBO’s good-to-great fantasy series to a no-character-is-safe cultural juggernaut. For now, Petyr is backing yet another Stark — Ned’s daughter Sansa — all the while throwing side-glances at her brother, Jon Snow, that would make even blue winter roses wilt.
4. Joffrey Baratheon
When the fourth season’s “The Lion and the Rose” cut to the credits on Joffrey Baratheon’s poisoned, purple face, it marked a rare moment time in TV history when fans gleefully celebrated the death of a teenage boy. At that point, who could blame them? From the moment he swaggered onto the screen in the very first episode with his nose upturned, the incest-borne boy-king was royal privilege run rampant. Joffrey’s closest companion? The hulking, disfigured brute Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. Joffrey’s hobby? Using prostitutes as crossbow target practice. Joffrey’s idea of chivalry? Presenting the severed head of his bride-to-be’s father on a spike. When Tyrion Lannister delivered a slap to the side of his cousin’s head in “The Old Gods and the New,” it felt deserved; by the time the so-called Purple Wedding came around, watching the tiniest tyrant in King’s Landing get his just deserts was downright cathartic.
3. Walder Frey
The Lord of Riverrun is the reason “GOT” fans are wary of the color red, get shivers at the opening notes of “The Rains of Castamere” and always check for chainmail underneath any wedding attire. The Red Wedding — arguably the most shocking murder on a show made up primarily of shocking murders — was jarring not only for its brutality, but for Walder Frey’s grotesque delight at the center of it all; he barely put down his wine glass as most of House Stark was slaughtered in front of him. In the end, Frey found his comeuppance at that very same table, at the hands of that very same House. After he murdered her family over a meal, Arya Stark went and made a feast out of Walder Frey’s family.
2. Ramsay Bolton
That is Ramsay Bolton, for sure, because to use the bastard-given name “Ramsay Snow” is asking for a trip to the kennel cages. The maniacal son of Roose Bolton is as close to a comic book supervillain as “Game of Thrones” ever got, his laundry list of awful deeds matched only by the glee each perverse act seemed to give him. Just as Reek, formerly Theon Greyjoy, who Ramsay transformed into something several levels below a servant through a routine trial of torture, dismemberment and humiliation. Or Sansa Stark, given to Ramsay as a bride by Petyr Baelish, whose wedding night with the Bolton bastard turned into the single most alarming controversy in “Game of Thrones” history. By the time Ramsay fed his own infant brother to his pet dogs in “Home,” it was almost expected. Of course, those dogs were his own undoing, as Sansa herself locked Ramsay in a cage, to quote another grinning psychopath, “to see how loyal a hungry dog really is.”
1. Cersei Lannister
It is fitting that the woman who defined the rules of the game is the one to throw the playbook out the window. She barely even flinched when her own son followed it all the way to the pavement below. The matriarch of the Lannister family has spent six seasons blasting her opponents off the playing board, both literally and metaphorically. Ned Stark threatened to expose her relationship with her brother, Jaime, and lost his head in the process. When she decided her husband, King Robert Baratheon, had outlived his usefulness, she orchestrated a fatal hunting accident. She maneuvered her own brother Tyrion into a trial by combat, and brought a monster back from the dead to brutalize her enemies. And just when the High Sparrow and would-be queen Margaery Tyrell thought they had her cornered, Cersei simply blasted them to pieces in a flash of wildfire, watching with a glass of Dornish red wine from her bedroom window. The story of “GOT” started with the acts of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, and looks to be ending with the arrival of a Night King, but right now a Queen is on the throne, and she is the most ruthless player there is.