This list is different than it would have been before I watched the TV series. Some actors manage to put a completely different spin on their characters than I interpreted in the novels. Spoilers, especially in the videos.
Daenarys – Emilia Clark just plays her as such a compelling character. She’s genuinely likable, but she’s also completely ruthless. It’s a wonderful contrast to watch. She takes care of her own, but she completely destroys her enemies. I wouldn’t want to know her or anything, but she’s fascinating to watch.
Tyrion – The obvious choice for this list, Tyrion is a really popular character. And with good reason. He’s fun, he’s cynical, he’s bitter, he’s sarcastic. All that stuff we love. He’s the ultimate underdog, and how could he not get sympathy for being the series’ chew toy? One of many, yes, but one of the most pronounced.
Sansa – I did not like Sansa anywhere near this much in the books. Or much at all, even after she started changing. But watching Sophie Turner portray her, it was easy to simultaneously feel bad for her circumstances and feel proud of that bit of backbone showing.
You can see her vulnerability and you can see her steadfastness. She has the kind of strength where she doesn’t throw anything into her keepers’ faces, but doesn’t break either. And it’s visible in the series that she’s scared, but she’s going to endure anyway.
Arya – Arya was definitely my favorite character from the books alone, partly because her point of view gave the readers a window through which to see how she changes psychologically on this journey she takes. We lose that window a bit in the TV series, and her journey’s just beginning there, so we’ll see how that goes.
But her scenes in the books are always some of my favorite to read. For the information she gives us on what’s happening in the countryside during the war and for her own change from a less than ideal lady to something she should never have gotten a chance to become.
In addition to this, I decided to throw in some of my favorite acting from the TV series, the above characters excluded.
Viserys – Harry Lloyd is really, really good. He plays this awful, spoiled character who can’t understand why he doesn’t have what he’s been raised to believe is his. He’s callously cruel, he can’t take criticism, and doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. Lloyd sells him so well.
Jaime – It’s really not fair for someone like Jaime to be so charismatic. Yes, I know people like him. Half the time, so do I. Why is this, when he’s essentially just an arrogant douche? With some talent, yeah, but still. I mean, the guy threw a kid off a tower in the first episode. It’s the charisma. He has it in the books, and he has it even worse when he’s being played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. I’m waiting to see what he does with the character when Jaime starts getting some substance in later seasons.
Jaqen – I don’t even know if I can explain this one. Tom Wlaschiha just has atmosphere. It’s like his character’s mood extends beyond just himself and actually manages to affect the area around him. Is anyone else getting that impression, or is it just me? Every time he changes his posture, I just have to sit up and take notice.
Shae – I was never fond of Shae in the books, but in the tv series, I find myself watching her carefully. Maybe this is because I know where her story’s supposed to go, and I’m looking for signs of it. I don’t see them, and I find myself believing Shae half the time, wondering if things will happen differently in the series than they did in the book.
Even if they don’t, that makes sense to me. Shae should be really good at selling what she wants people to believe. And in the series, Sibel Kekilli makes her this fascinating mix between fierce and playful which is way more interesting to watch than what I was imagining from the book.
Naturally, these lists could be longer. A Game of Thrones is filled with great characters and actors. These are just some of the highlights for me, if I had to choose among them. Honestly, it would be a much shorter list for me to name the characters I don’t like than the ones I do.