Game Of Thrones interest seems to be reaching an all-time high as we approach the premiere of season six later this month. Soon we’ll find out what kind of trouble Dany’s in, what Bran’s been up to for past two years, whether or not Theon can truly redeem himself, and most importantly how (it’s not really an if) Jon Snow is coming back to life. But perhaps best of all, we’ll get a fresh season of plotting, scheming, and backstabbing – which really, more than the swordplay and bloodshed, is what keeps this series going.
And that begs the question: who is actually the craftiest schemer in Game Of Thrones? Indeed, multiple key characters have described the cycle of politics and war as a “game,” and seem to view it all like an intricate game of chess. So who plays best? These are my picks.
1. Tyrion Lannister
“I understand the way this game is played” has become one of the most iconic quotes of the series, and indeed is one of the aforementioned instances in which a character actually refers to the goings on as a game. Tyrion’s greatest asset is that he always views things this way, and never takes any development lightly. The argument against him as the craftiest of characters may be that we’ve seen him on the wrong end of a disagreement or tragedy a few too many times. Then again, we should also remember that he’s been dealt a horrible hand and he’s survived five rounds (or seasons) of the game, so to speak. Tyrion always has a trick up his sleeve, and is undoubtedly the most resourceful character in the show.
2. Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger
There are endless character comparisons and rankings around the Internet, but one of the most thorough – the Hunger Game Of Thrones – analyzed popular characters by scoring them in different categories and treating their battle like a cycle of the Hunger Games. The article was written up by Lottoland, who in addition to offering real scratch card and lottery contests do some fun pieces on how to win lotteries, or what to do if you win – evidently treating winning the Game Of Thrones as an equally monumental task. At any rate, Baelish is the only character included who scored a 10/10 on the combined “cunning” and “survival” rankings, which makes a pretty strong case for him. Incidentally, Sansa Stark scored a surprise 8, but more on that later….
3. Lord Varys
Lord Varys, aka The Spider, is often presented as a co-conspirator and/or rival of Tyrion’s, and the two of them probably get the most focus as schemers. Indeed, thanks to his anonymous, ghostly sources rumored to populate the whole of the known world, Varys always has a handle on what’s going on, and always forms a strategy accordingly. He may be the smartest of the bunch, though he has a few disadvantages that keep him a notch below Tyrion and Littlefinger. Most notably, he doesn’t have the resources or capacity to form alliances that his rivals have. However, he also suffers somewhat from seeking to engineer the success of others, rather than focusing on his own prosperity.
4. Cersei Lannister
It’s a little hard to include Cersei on a list like this given where we left off in season five. Suffice it to say she’s been thoroughly outfoxed and brutally defeated. Nevertheless, the very fact that she appears to be back on her feet in season six is a testament to her perseverance and unrelenting ambition. Cersei occasionally misses a detail, and she’s probably not quite as sharp as either her brother Tyrion or her late father Tywin. But she may be more ruthless than either, and it certainly appears that that gives her options neither of them would think of.
5. Sansa Stark
I expect most would place a character like Margaery Tyrell, the Queen Of Thorns, Melisandre, or even Jaqen H’ghar in the fifth spot – and certainly not Sansa. However, there’s actually ample evidence that Sansa has learned the Game of Thrones extraordinarily well through all her trials. Buzzfeed, in its never-ending effort to point out new perspectives and opinions on fiction and pop culture phenomena, actually wrote up an article pointing out 21 instances in which Sansa was the smartest character on the show. That label might be a bit of a stretch, but reading through it you can really get a sense of just how far she’s come, and how crafty she is in her darkest moments.
That’s my list, for now. But then, who knows how it might look in a few more weeks when season six is underway!