5. Eddard Stark
He was the biggest character, played by the biggest actor, at the center of the biggest storyline and all the promo posters and trailers and commercials…and none of that could save him. Ned's dead, baby, and while his surprise execution is what made Game of Thrones part of the pop-culture pantheon, it's his hangdog sense of duty and honor — he died because he respected the value of the lives of freaking Cersei and Joffrey! — that made us care about him, and the show, in the first place.
4. Sansa Stark
If a Disney princess had night terrors, the story of Sansa Stark might be what woke her up screaming. Often overlooked in favor of her killer kid sister, the elder Stark sibling has had all her illusions about the world, and her safety in it, shattered. But her quiet, innate political shrewdness and emotional strength have enabled her to survive in a royal court that likely would have cost every other member of her family their heads. She's the show's best-kept secret.
3. Tyrion Lannister
The fan-favorite character who landed Peter Dinklage on the cover of Rolling Stone, the Imp is almost always the smartest guy in the room. But what matters is that he's almost always the most decent dude there, too, struggling to do the right thing despite his ruthless family, his brutal society, and his own more than slightly sketchy nature. He's horny, he's funny, and he's never less than fascinating.
2. Joffery Baratheon
In the annals of television history, has their ever been a better demonstration of the "character you love to hate" concept? This sniveling, sociopathic inbred bastard had Ned killed, Sansa beaten, babies murdered, whores tortured, and audiences booing the poor kid who plays him whenever he surfaces. For TV's most vivid villain, crime pays.
1. Daenerys Targaryen
She's the heir to a powerful, fucked-up family with even more powerful and fucked-up enemies. Her story is a non-stop confrontation with complex ideas about sex, war, gender, race, politics, and morality. She's played by an actor who went from unknown to star overnight. Oh, and she's a fireproof messiah with a trio of flying nuclear dinosaurs at her disposal. The Mother of Dragons is the human embodiment of everything that makes Game of Thrones great. Bow down.