There’s no denying “The Game of Thrones” is brutal.
Ceresi said it best: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” But some play far dirtier than others.
Entering the eighth and final season of the HBO epic, we looked back at the deceitful and downright dirty moves of some of the game’s ruthless players.
Below, we rank them, from the bad to the worst.
10. Theon Greyjoy
Taking over Winterfell and betraying Robb Stark was a crucial turning point for Theon, who’s later stripped of his identity. He pretended to kill the Stark boys (and actually burned two young farm boys) and helped Ramsay Bolton do his bidding. He had his redeeming moments, like helping Sansa escape Winterfell, but he hasn’t yet proven himself trustworthy.
9. 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.
8. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
Never underestimate the strength of a man with an unquestionable thirst for power. Petyr Baelish hopped between allegiances so often that every word uttered from underneath his pencil-thin mustache sounded like a lie. But his meddling did have its benefits: Littlefinger stabbing Ned Stark in the first season led to the beheading heard around the world in “Baelor.” That moment launched “Game of Thrones” from HBO’s good-to-great fantasy series to a no-character-is-safe cultural juggernaut. But he crossed a line when he tried to drive a wedge between the Stark sisters and ultimately was beat at his own game.
7. Stannis Baratheon
The younger brother of King Robert Baratheon may have had a claim to the Iron Throne, but putting his trust in the Red Woman (Melisandre) proved diabolical. Together, the two “sacrificed” many for the Lord of Light. However, Stannis went too far in one of the show’s most disturbing scenes. In season 5, episode 9, he burned his daughter Shireen alive, and stood there watching as she cried out for his help. Anything for the throne.
6. The High Sparrow
Several “Game of Thrones” characters blame their vile actions on the gods — but none more so than The High Sparrow. The leader of the religious group claimed he was rooting out evil, but ignored the sins of his own. As High Septon, he tortured his subjects, killed them, held numerous captive (including Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell) and orchestrated the show’s iconic “shame” scene.
5. Walder Frey
The Lord of Riverrun. The orchestrator of the Red Wedding. Walder Frey was behind the most shocking mass murder of the series, single-handedly wiping out a portion of House Stark (and Robb’s unborn baby). And we can’t forget the lord’s lifestyle: He’s fathered countless daughters by rape and trades them for power moves.
4. 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.
3. 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. Much of the series’ drama leads back to the Lannister twin who currently sits on the Iron Throne. We’ve survived seven seasons of Cersei blasting her opponents — literally and figuratively. She used wildfire to knock her enemies off the board and barely thought twice when her second son’s death left the throne vacant. But Cersei, as powerful as she may be, isn’t without weakness. The golden Lannister child is a product of the house her father built, training his children to be ruthless at every turn. One can argue her aggression stems back to several points in her lifetime, starting with the death of her mother, festering in arranged marriages and coming full circle with the passing of her three children.
2. 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 nephew’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.
1. Ramsay Bolton
A mind this vile needs no explanation. But we’ll comply. Ramsay’s efforts proved evil at every turn and the long list of lives taken at the hands and orders of the Bolton bastard — his father Roose, his stepmother, and half brother — was only the beginning. Torturing and dismembering Theon Greyjoy (“Reek”) served as a twisted launchpad for Ramsay. His wedding to Sansa Stark and the rape that followed provided one of the most controversial moments in “Game of Thrones” history. A diabolical grin never left his face, even through to his dying day.
With Vinnie Mancuso