What is a “hero” on Game of Thrones?

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

There are no traditional heroes in Game of Thrones, but characters like Jon Snow, Brienne of Tarth and Daenerys Targaryen come close.

There are no traditional heroes in Game of Thrones, only those who win or die.

Over the course of eight seasons, pretty much all of the main characters have done things both heroic and questionable. Finding a “hero” on Game of Thrones is difficult because a character’s “goodness” can change depending on the episode.

Those character evolutions are part of what make the show so compelling. No character is purely good or evil, with their actions often putting them in a moral grey area that is uniquely human. The people we meet on Game of Thrones resonate because they aren’t perfect. They grow and change over the years, taking big and small steps toward a future that wasn’t apparent for any of them way back in the first season.

But most Game of Thrones characters — whether they started out as “good guys” or “bad guys” — have at least one heroic moment or redemption arc. We’re going to look at three who come closest to resembling the typical hero archetype: Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Brienne of Tarth.

Game of Thrones
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Daenerys Targaryen

The Mother of Dragons began the show as an ignorant pawn traded as part of a political game she wasn’t a part of, and went on to amass an army through her own strength and leadership abilities. Although she could be extreme, she kept her compassion for others and listened to experienced advisers around her.

Daenerys was a champion for the common people and made a priority of eradicating slavery. Unfortunately, her heroic acts were overshadowed when in the end she sought revenge in her quest to become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Brienne of Tarth

Brienne of Tarth, her father’s only daughter, rejected the traditional path of becoming a lady, instead choosing to train as a fighter. People laughed at her, belittled her and tried to put her in a place they thought she belonged. But Brienne never wavered in fighting for what she thought was right.

Brienne took oaths and loyalty with the utmost seriousness, seen in her devotion to protect first Catelyn Stark and later her daughters Sansa and Arya Stark. Though she does not love violence, she engages in it if she feels she has to, even beating the legendary fighter Jaime Lannister back when he still had both hands. In the end, Brienne is knighted by Jaime in one of the most touching, satisfying scenes in the entire series.

Jon Snow

Then there’s Jon Snow, the character billed as an underdog hero since the very beginning. He’s certainly not perfect and has done some unfortunate things throughout the series. But his unwavering trust, loyalty and honor set him apart as the most heroic character in Game of Thrones.

Jon Snow’s honorable treatment of both his friends and enemies showed integrity and confidence even when he was at his most vulnerable. In Season 6, Jon Snow led an army of wildlings and remaining members of the Night’s Watch in the epic Battle of the Bastards to help Sansa Stark take back Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton. That thrilling, anxiety-inducing battle cemented Jon Snow as a leader who knew how to determine a real enemy and fight for what is right, no matter the cost. Jon also fought against the White Walkers to save the wildlings, a people deemed enemies of Westeros for hundreds of years.

And though it was a controversial ending to the series and for a beloved character, Jon Snow stayed true to his honor by killing Daenerys Targaryen after she had massacred King’s Landing, choosing duty over love once again.

While there are other Game of Thrones characters who have heroic moments throughout the series, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Brienne of Tarth are the three that come the closest to embodying the traditional archetype. Not having a traditional “hero” character made the series all the more appealing. Its portrayal of the complexities of human nature let it be relatable and rooted in reality while also featuring three fire-breathing dragons and hordes of ice zombies.

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