Game of Thrones became notorious for the sheer amount of character deaths in its runtime. But despite its reputation, the show was able to restrain itself when it came to major deaths.
While there are plenty of instances where more minor characters die, major character deaths, or deaths that have a large impact on the plot, tend to be more spaced out from one another, particularly earlier on in the show.
10 Jon Arryn Dies During Or Before The Very First Episode
With his death kicking off the plot, viewers never actually saw Jon Arryn die. Nonetheless, his poisoning at the hands of his wife, Lysa Tully, is what led King Robert to come to Winterfell and proclaim Ned Stark Hand of the King, while also joining their families.
Aside from Daenerys’ adventures in Essos, Arryn’s death and the immediate consequence prompted every other storyline in the show, with Ned stirring a viper’s nest in King’s Landing causing a war, and his absence leading Jon to the Night’s Watch and the fight they face North of the Wall.
9 Viserys Initially Seemed A Big Threat
Forming a marriage alliance with the most powerful of the Dothraki warlords, and numerous discussions of the danger this poses for Westeros, it seemed obvious that Viserys Targaryen was going to be a major antagonist for more than just his sister, Daenerys Targaryen, despite his weak personality.
When he overstepped the mark and tried to bully Daenerys and Khal Drogo with a drawn blade, Viserys was quickly removed from the equation. A vat of molten gold killed him, although Drogo would later take up his plans to invade Westeros.
8 Robert’s Death Began The War In Earnest
The very first engagements of the War of the Five Kings began while Robert Baratheon was still alive, hunting the boar that killed him, as Lannister soldiers raided the Riverlands. Nonetheless, it was only after Robert expired from a gore wound that Westeros erupted in flames.
With Robert dead, the Lannisters moved to consolidate their hold on the throne in Joffrey, thwarting Ned’s attempt to crown Stannis in his place. The Northerners mobilized to liberate Riverrun and force Ned’s release, Stannis and Renly Baratheon each set about pressing their claim to the throne, and the Iron Islands planned to secede. Only with Robert’s death could the War of the Five Kings truly begin.
7 Ned Stark’s Death Signalled Game Of Thrones’ Tone
Game of Thrones was very much an ensemble piece, following many different characters at a time across a number of storylines. In its first season, Ned Stark was the closest thing it had to a protagonist, being the focus of the King’s Landing storyline. As a result, many expected him to ultimately be safe, despite his dire situation in the first season’s latter half.
Instead, Ned was betrayed, tricked, and beheaded in front of a baying crowd, as both of his daughters watched. It was this death, despite not being the first major one, that let viewers know what sort of a show Game of Thrones was going to be.
6 Khal Drogo Confirmed Who The True Focus Of Essos Was
With Viserys Targaryen dead, the threat in the east looked to be Khal Drogo, promising to invade the Seven Kingdoms with his entire khalasar, and devastate them. However, a minor wound taken while fighting one of his own men grew infected, and Drogo fell seriously ill.
To save his life, Daenerys had a maegi perform blood magic, which left Drogo in a catatonic state. Daenerys smothered him out of mercy, putting an end to any massive threat rising in the east, and instead confirming that the Essos storyline was about Daenerys’s journey, not something else for the cast in Westeros to have to fight immediately.
5 Renly Was The First King To Die
Season 2 focused on the initial major engagements of the War of the Five Kings, with early episodes focusing on the conflict between the brothers Baratheon, Renly, and Stannis. Despite being the rightful heir, Stannis had the least support, especially compared to his brother.
With two Kingdoms behind him, Renly had the largest army in the Seven Kingdoms and most food, and appeared to be the biggest threat to the Lannisters—but a potential ally for the Starks. A shadow assassin murdered him before his battle with Stannis, forever changing the politics of the war.
4 Maester Luwin’s Death Left Bran Nearly Alone
Although a more minor character than others, Maester Luwin was a constant presence in Winterfell for two seasons, influencing the story by providing crucial aid and wisdom to Ned, Catelyn, Robb, Bran, and even Theon.
When Theon’s Ironborn betrayed him, Luwin attempted to intervene, only to be stabbed and left for dead, surviving long enough to speak to Bran one last time. His death signaled that Bran had to mature to survive.
3 Jeor Mormont Left Lord Commander Open
Jeor Mormont served as the superior and mentor figure for not just Jon, but much of the Night’s Watch in the first three seasons, as their Lord Commander who led the Great Ranging to find Benjen Stark, break Mance Rayder, and discover the threat of the Others. He was a powerful man and a good leader.
When a disastrous battle against the others sent him and his men back to Craster’s Keep, hunger and low morale led to a mutiny, with Mormont stabbed. His death left Jon, Sam, and their friends to defend the Wall against much worse odds, and also meant Jon could become Lord Commander, setting the next part of his story in motion.
2 Rickard Karstark’s Execution Was Another Stage Of The End For Robb
After an exceptional season waging war against the Lannisters without ever losing a battle, it was in diplomacy and strategy that King Robb Stark began to lose the War of the Five Kings. His uncle overzealously beat back Gregor Clegane instead of allowing him to chase Robb and be trapped, and he lost the crucial men and support of the Freys by breaking a marriage pact.
Another step to Robb’s defeat was his execution of Rickard Karstark. The Lord led the murder of two teenaged Lannisters whom Robb was holding prisoner, and showed no remorse. While his death was just, it left Robb with even less support and showed his diminishing control over his campaign.
1 The First White Walker Slain Gave Mankind Hope
The tenth major death in Game of Thrones was not even of a named character, with the only named White Walker being the Night King. Nonetheless, when Sam Tarly and Gilly were cornered by a White Walker, Sam changed the show with a stab of an obsidian dagger.
Until that point, the White Walkers, in their brief appearances, had been shown to be unstoppable. A single one had killed two Night’s Watchmen without pause, and a small army of them and their wights overran the Watch in force. With his dragonglass dagger, Sam showed that they could be stopped, albeit not easily.