The Unexpected Heroes of Game of Thrones

Forget Jon Snow and the Mother of Dragons. Here are some unlikely players who have stepped up in a big way over the years.

By AT&T Digital Media Productions editorial team 


Game of Thrones thrives on subverting fantasy fiction tropes, especially when it comes to morality plays between good and evil. The characters are complex and morally gray, and their motivations can be murky and capricious, making it hard to keep track of who to root for.

It’s true that by the end of Season 7, the two heroes of our story are “heroes” in the traditional sense: Jon Snow is on a mythic journey with his special sword and noble lineage, and Daenerys Targaryen is confidently sweeping the globe like Alexander the Great with shinier hair and a trio pair of dragons.

Throughout the series, many of the true heroes of Game of Thrones have been characters who would be sidekicks at best in another setting. So let’s run down the show’s best moments of heroism from a few surprising sources.


Samwell Tarly is a prototypical “un-heroic” sidekick in the mold of Neville Longbottom or Bilbo Baggins. He’s a rotund, bookish Southern lordling of gentle temperament, more suited for the library than the battlefield. But Westeros is no place for pacifists, and Lord Randyll Tarly was so disgusted with his firstborn son that he disowned Sam and shipped him off to the Night’s Watch (it was either that or “hunting accident”). Poor Sam had no fighting ability at all when he arrived at Castle Black, falling on his back in the training yard like a helpless turtle.

But this week’s finale demonstrated the value of Sam’s much-maligned bookish nature. Sam’s studies in Oldtown independently verified Jon’s parentage, and when he met with Bran in Winterfell, the two were the first living people in Westeros to discuss how R+L=J. Of course, Sam would never have unearthed that information if not for...



Gilly’s fierce loyalty has fueled bursts of courage again and again. When we first met her, she asked Samwell to save her son from her father, Craster, and the White Walkers, a definitive act of brave defiance. Since then, she’s stuck firmly by Sam’s side, encouraging and supporting her timid boyfriend while flirting with danger herself. But her most heroic moment may have been standing up to Lord Tarly in his gloomy castle of Horn Hill. Even though she was in an unfamiliar setting, at a pronounced class disadvantage, and possibly endangering her life by coming out as a wildling, Gilly spoke up for Sam, proudly retelling his feats of valor in response to Dad’s verbal abuse.

Gilly gave Sam a big boost yet again in Season 7. Eager to show off her new reading skills in Oldtown, she unwittingly revealed that Rhaegar Targaryen annulled his marriage and secretly wed Lyanna Stark, which makes Jon Snow no bastard but the trueborn Targaryen heir. Gilly dropped this critical scholarly research even though she couldn’t even read when we met her. Her discovery will have profound consequences for Jon, Daenerys, and the entire continent of Westeros before all is said and done.


HEEL-FACE TURN: Theon Greyjoy

Theon was a total rat we loved to hate until he was subjected to such brutal, prolonged torture that we actually started to feel sorry for him. Following his captivity with Ramsay Bolton, the formerly cruel, arrogant, child-murdering Theon was a broken man in more ways than one. But seeing Sansa Stark abused by Ramsay stirred something in him, and he overcame his trauma to mount a daring escape—a feat no one expected from the cowering prisoner. Since then, he seemed to be a better man, lending his unwavering support to his sister, Yara, and accompanying her to join Team Targaryen.

During Season 7’s Greyjoy-versus-Greyjoy naval battle, however, Theon’s PTSD kicked in and smothered any heroic impulses. When Euron taunted him by threatening Yara, Theon panicked and jumped ship rather than save his sister from Euron’s clutches.

But after a soul-probing finale conversation with Jon, Theon finally realized what it meant to man up and do the right thing. The last time we saw Theon, he was savoring a fisticuffs victory over Harrag and leading a band of Ironborn to rescue Yara from King’s Landing.


OUT OF THE LION’S DEN: Jaime Lannister’s True Colors


The very first episode of Game of Thrones ended with Jaime pausing his twincest just long enough to push nine-year-old Bran out of a window. Since that villainous beginning, however, the Kingslayer has been slowly but surely tiptoeing down a path of decency. Losing his sword hand forced him to learn humility, and he began to crave the respect of decent folks like Catelyn Stark and Brienne of Tarth. He started to undermine Cersei whenever possible, even going behind her back to free their brother Tyrion from prison, ultimately leading to their father’s undignified death.

In the Season 7 finale, Jaime finally broke with Cersei and her corrupting influence for good. Dismayed at his twin’s intention to break her pledge to Daenerys and shocked at her cavalier attitude toward the safety of the realm, Jaime left King’s Landing and rode North, presumably to join the war against the Night King. Let’s hope Jon and Daenerys recognize his good intentions, and welcome him into the fold.




Osha the Wildling

Though a glorified slave, Osha saved Bran and Rickon Stark’s skins by smuggling them out of Winterfell during Theon’s reign of terror, and served as chief protector on their perilous journey to the Wall. She later made a solid, albeit unsuccessful, attempt at stabbing Ramsay to death.



We always knew gentle Hodor was a loyal servant and friend to the Stark children. But his moment of self-sacrifice in “The Door,” a lifetime in the making, went above and beyond the call of duty. He had one job, and he did it.


Podrick Payne

The bumbling, inexperienced squire saved Tyrion from certain death with a well-placed spear at the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2. He also proved the unlikeliest of heroes to several of the ladies at Littlefinger’s brothel, who refused payment out of gratitude for his skills. Now that he’s a more capable swordsman, thanks to training with Brienne, Podrick is poised to perform more heroic deeds.


With its huge cast and sweeping scope, there are surely more unlikely heroes in the show’s future. Who will surprise us next? Tune into Game of Thrones, exclusively on HBO.


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