Game of Thrones (2011-) is back, and with it comes millions of people challenged to remember all the faces and names that comprise its massive ensemble cast. With so many locations, houses, groups, armies, allegiances and rivalries flowing through the veins of Westeros and its citizens, it's hard to remember just where everyone fits. Fortunately for you, we've done our best to create a little guide of all the major players, reminding you who they are, where they fit, and why they matter. Since nobody has time to read up on absolutely everyone in the immense Thrones world, we highlighted the characters that are still alive and capable of making an appearance on the series or who were big enough players to still receive mention or have lasting effect on those surviving.
Needless to say, this article contains spoilers about the characters listed. If you aren't caught up on the series, look no further.
"A Lannister always pays his debts." - Motto of House Lannister
Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance)
Tywin holds many titles, including the head of House Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, Hand of the King for three different kings, and Protector of the Realm. He is the father of Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion Lannister, and grandfather of Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen Baratheon. A calculated and effective leader, Tywin understands the balance between fighting and diplomacy, and has built the Lannister name into the most powerful in all of Westeros. He married his first cousin, as is common in Lannister lineage, and knows the true parentage of his grandchildren despite playing ignorant on the matter. He served as Hand of the Kind to The Mad King Aerys for 20 years until Aerys refused to marry Tywin's daughter Cersei to his son Rhaegar, and appointed Tywin's oldest son Jaime to the Kingsguard, stripping Tywin of his heir. Tywin holds deep resentment for his dwarf son Tyrion, to whom the Lannister inheritance is technically due, as Jaime is unable to inherit due to his place in the Kingsguard. Tywin is responsible for a considerable amount of the actual governance during his grandson Joffrey's (Jack Gleeson) reign as King. He leads the Lannister defenses in the War of the Five Kings and, with Tyrell forces in tow, wins the Battle of Blackwater. He is aware of Joffrey's cowardice and spends two seasons leading the realm by his own design, unafraid to bluntly tell Joffrey what to do. Following Joffrey's death, Tyrion is put on trial for the murder, largely as a means for Tywin to rid himself of his son. Tyrion requests a trial by combat, loses, and Tywin sentences him to death -- and act which Tyrion repays by shooting Tywin twice with a crossbow as he sits on the toilet, killing him.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau)
The oldest son of Tywin Lannister, Jaime is a knight of the Kingsguard and biological father of the children believed to be his sister Cersei and Robert Baratheon's (Mark Addy). He previously served in the Kingsguard of Aerys II Targaryen and betrayed and killed Aerys during the Sack of King's Landing, earning him the sobriquet "Kingslayer" across Westeros. The youngest knight ever admitted to the Kingsguard, he is a cocky and confident fighter, but his character undergoes a tremendous arc throughout the series. His introduction comes in the form of pushing Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) from a tower after Bran catches him copulating with Cersei. Throughout the first season, his braggadocious nature carries through every encounter, but he ultimately ends up a prisoner of Robb Stark (Richard Madden) during Robb's march in the War of the Five Kings. Worried about her daughters in King's Landing, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) releases Jaime from her son's imprisonment and tasks her sworn sword, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) with delivering Jaime back to King's Landing. Along the way, Brienne and Jaime develop a relationship of mutual respect and unspoken affection for one another, but not before Locke (Noah Taylor), a rider from House Bolton, intercepts them and cuts off Jaime's legendary sword-wielding hand. This sets off a change of character for Jaime who henceforth works to be a better person. When he finally returns to King's Landing, Jaime's father Tywin offers to get him out of the Kingsguard and enable his inheritance, offering the re-forged sword of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), now called Oathkeeper, as a gift. Jaime declines the offer and Tywin disowns him as a son. During his brother Tyrion's murder trial, Jaime feels compassion for Tyrion as he knows he is being condemned for no reason, and eventually sets him free and arranges his escape from the city, unsure if the two will ever see each other again. In the fifth season, under threat from House Martell, Cersei asks Jaime to go to Dorne and recover their daughter, Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free). With the help of Bronn, who had been giving Jaime one-handed swordfighting lessons, he obeys and finds Myrcella yet unharmed. Upon transporting Myrcella back to King's Landing, she dies on the ship in Jaime's arms, poisoned by a kiss from Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), the first of her actions toward taking over Dorne. In the sixth season, he leads a raid against Riverrun to reclaim it from Tully forces.
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)
Tywin's daughter and Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, she is the widow of Robert Baratheon and mother to Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman), and the twin sister of Jaime Lannister, who fathered the aforementioned children. She is massively devoted to her children and loves them immensely, but treats everyone else with general disdain and contempt. Her relationship with Robert is not one of love, but political arrangement. When Ned Stark reveals to her that he has discovered the true parentage of her children, she verifies his accusation and plays a role in his eventual execution. She spends the second and third season of the series frequently governing as Queen Regent through Joffrey. When her son is poisoned and killed at his wedding, he dies in her arms, and Cersei takes the opportunity to blame her brother Tyrion for the murder. She testifies in his "court trial'" and presides over his trial by combat. Meanwhile, her father attempts to marry her to Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), the former lover of her brother-in-law Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), which she refuses out of love for Jaime. In the fifth season, she meets a man known as The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), naming him the High Septon capable of reinstating the Faith militant, a military order dedicated to defending the Faith of the Seven, abolished centuries before. They arrest Loras for being a homosexual and start a rampage of the city, during which Margaery is arrested for false testimony against her brother. Cersei is proud of her work until the High Sparrow arrests her for engineering the arrests of others and her own crimes of incest and regicide, throwing her in a cell. Refusing to confess to incest, she is forced to walk naked through the streets of King's Landing from the Great Sept to the Red Keep as punishment (known as "the walk of shame"), as poor onlookers throw filth and feces at her, hurling insults all the while. She arrives bloody and broken at the Red Keep as she is introduced to the newest member of the Kingsguard -- an enormous man in golden armor who "won't rest until all her enemies are slaughtered." She spends the sixth season plotting against the High Sparrow, ultimately killing him (along with the Faith Militant, Margaery Tyrell [Natalie Dormer], Loras Tyrell [Finn Jones], and countless innocents) through the use of wildflower detonated beneath the Sept. Unfortunately, this act also causes Tommen, her last living child, to kill himself. She is installed as Queen in the finale of Season Six.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)
The dwarf and black sheep of the Lannister family, he is blamed by Tywin and Cersei for his mother's death, which occurred during his birth. Arguably the most intelligent Lannister outside of Tywin and easily the wittiest, he uses his personality to overcome his physical handicap, and as such is a fan favorite character. Still, he has earned nicknames like "halfman, the little lion, and the imp" among the people for his physical stature. He has a soft spot for fellow people of physical handicap, taking a liking to Bran Stark early in the series. Still, Catelyn Stark accuses him of an attempted attack on Bran's life and makes Tyrion her prisoner, taking him to The Eyrie for trial. He wins a trial by combat, earning his freedom, with the help of a sellsword named Bronn. This begins a long-lasting association between the two. Tyrion is soon made Hand of the King to oversee Joffrey in Tywin's stead, as he returns to Harrenhal for refuge. In the meantime, Tyrion develops a strong and passionate relationship with a prostitute named Shae (Sibel Kekilli). During the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion leads the defense of King's Landing, defeating much of the enemy forces by a trap ship filled with wildfire. He is wounded, and in response to his victory in the battle, is stripped of his title of Hand of the King and stuck in a room far away from everyone. Some time later, he marries Sansa Stark under an arrangement by his father to secure armies in the family's favor, coinciding with an engagement between Cersei and Loras Tyrell. Tyrion goes through with the marriage but refuses to consummate it out of respect for his unwilling bride. After King Joffrey's murder, Tyrion is put on trial yet again for a murder he didn't commit. This time the trial by combat is overseen by Tywin and Cersei, and Tyrion's champion, Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), loses. Feeling pity for his younger brother, Jaime Lannister breaks Tyrion from his cell and allows him to escape. Tyrion hides in a ship with Lord Varys and flees King's Landing, but not before killing Tywin with a crossbow. Varys and Tyrion travel to Pentos and begin a plan to bring the Targaryen name back to power, ultimately voyaging to Mereen and meeting up with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), to whom Tyrion now serves as an advisor. He devotes himself to her and travels with her to Westeros with an army.
These characters are not Lannisters by name, but have spent a great deal of their time either in the company of Lannisters, aiding the Lannisters, or loyal to the Lannister efforts.
Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen)
Baelish begins the series as Master of Coin on the small council. He is an expert manipulator and uses his ownership of brothels in King's Landing to gather information and acquire wealth. He has an expansive spy network outmanned only by that of Varys. He is the lord of House Baelish by default, as he is the name's only living member. During the War of the Ninepenny Kings, Petyr's father served House Tully, and Petyr grew up fostered in the company of Catelyn Stark. He has silently been in love with her since. His nickname comes from his family's minor land holdings in the Fingers, a coastal region in the northeastern shores of the Vale of Arryn. Littlefinger is admittedly deceitful and untrustworthy, his true motives rarely visible until after the fact. He helped arrange the joining of houses Lannister and Tyrell before the Battle of Blackwater, making their victory possible and earning him title as the Lord of Harrenhal. Following the murder of King Joffrey, he flees King's Landing headed toward The Eyrie. En route, Sansa Stark is delivered to his boat and he tells her of his role in Joffrey's death, for which he provided Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) with the poison necessary to kill him. At the Eyrie, he marries and murders Sansa's aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie), widow of Littlefinger's late friend Jon. Sansa covers for him and soon learns of his greater plan -- marrying her to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) as part of a grand design to make her reclaim control of the north. Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale come to the aid of Jon Stark in "The Battle of the Bastards" to save his army from destruction by the Boltons, following which he attempts to seduce and marry Sansa Stark, but is denied.
Lord Varys (Conleth Hill)
Popularly known as The Spider, Varys is a eunuch and originally the Master of Whisperers on the King's small council. His spy network is the largest in Westeros, spanning to Essos, Vaes Dothrak, and Qarth. He is a calm and calculated individual whose loyalties were unknown for several seasons, ultimately proving to be to Daenerys Targaryen. Born a slave, he worked his way through the ranks by his associations and proving his usefulness as a spy. After Tyrion's lost trial by combat for the murder of Joffrey, Varys smuggles him out of the city and eventually to the company of Daenerys Targaryen in Mereen, where the two begin to serve as advisers for her family name's return to the throne.
Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman)
Podrick was Tyrion Lannister's squire who saved his life during The Battle of Blackwater, in a moment when Tyrion was surely about to be killed. Following Tyrion's arrest for the death of Joffrey, he was put in the service of Brienne of Tarth on command of Jaime Lannister, accompanying her on her quest to locate Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa Stark. He apparently has an uncanny ability to pleasure women, which Tyrion and Bronn find most intriguing. During his tenure with Brienne, he has received extensive combat training and his skills in that area continue to develop.
Bronn (Jerome Flynn)
A skilled sellsword, the sarcastic and pragmatic Bronn emerges at The Eyrie when he champions for Tyrion Lannister in a trial by combat, henceforth entering Tyrion's service as a bodyguard. His renown in the world has grown over the seasons, temporarily serving as Commander of the City Watch in King's Landing, receiving knighthood for his role during the Battle of Blackwater, and taking on the title "Ser." In the company of Tyrion, he enforces Tyrion's plans and collaborates on all of his actions. After Jaime Lannister loses his hand, Bronn teaches him to fight using his non-dominant hand, the initially pathetic results of which are much to Bronn's delight. He is given an arranged marriage set up by Cersei Lannister, bethrothing him to Lollys Stokeworth, as a bribe to sway him from helping Tyrion following Joffrey's assassination. The move would further improve his social standing so he accepts and moves to Castle Stokeworth. He is interrupted by Jaime Lannister who requests his company on a journey to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella. There, they find her, but Bronn is poisoned by Tyene Sand, one of the "Sand Snakes" and daughters of the late Prince Oberon (Pedro Pascal). He lives, however, and is allowed to leave Dorne. With Jaime Lannister, he helps reclaim Riverrun from the Tully family in Season Six.
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