We kicked off our coverage of the sixth season of Game of Thrones with a bracket-style tournament that Melisandre absolutely would have approved of, which asked you a simple question: which character would you most like to see return to Game of Thrones? We didn't include Jon Snow because everyone knew he'd be back, but there are so many other characters who have died on the show, never to return.
After five brutal rounds that featured many upsets -- Ros beat Joffrey! -- top-seeded Ned Stark emerged as your sentimental choice to return. Yes, the Stark patriarch has actually returned this season in the form of flashbacks -- but not the Sean Bean version... yet. Your votes are tallied, now let's hope showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are reading. Even Bean himself wants to return! Come on, Thrones!
When we first came up with the idea for this bracket, we thought the final matchup might end up being a showdown between good and evil. Then you, the voters, knocked most of the dead villains out in the very first round, proving that GoT fans aren't quite as sadistic as the show's creative brain trust. Instead, voters rewarded good guys -- shocking, I know -- and our final battle pits two of the best heroes ever to lose their heads in Westeros. Ned Stark vs. Oberyn Martell: beard vs. mustache, the North vs. the South, nobility vs. swagger.
After defeating Ygritte to reach the finals, Ned has shown that he's capable of knocking out a Tumblr favorite. He's going to need all his wits to defeat the suave, sexy Dornishman. He'll be fueled by revenge: Oberyn made short work of Ned's son Robb in the previous round, so this time it's personal. Which one of these characters do you want to see get the Melisandre haircut-and-sponge-bath spa treatment? Who deserves one more breath and a shot at sitting on the Iron Throne? The choice is yours.
Ned Stark (1) vs. Ygritte (2)
The game has changed. Jon Snow is alive, revived (presumably) through the Lord of Light's patented magic, and now the mere idea of him flying solo makes us shed a frozen tear. Enter (or, reenter?) Ygritte, his equal in battle, and sole comfort in the gloomy existence he escaped for a few hours. This Romeo and Juliet couple deserves a second chance. Or they would, if Jon's beheaded dad (we're still calling him that until R + L = J is confirmed!) wasn't so beloved. And let's face it: that little taste of Kid Ned in this week's episode made us nostalgic for the days of his reasoned politics and scruffy wisdom. Now if only they could figure out how to bring Sean Bean back to the show...
Robb Stark (3) vs. Oberyn Martell (2)
First off, let's pour one out for Grey Wind, the brave direwolf who was bested by his own master Robb Stark in the previous round. It takes real skills to advance in a bracket without ever speaking a line of dialogue more complex than a growl. Oberyn Martell defeated a monosyllabic beast, too: the mighty Kahl Drogo, who will have to comfort himself with all that Aquaman money. Anyway, on to the battle at hand, which should be a close one. While Robb is a brilliant military tactician with a regal temperament, Oberyn is more of a classic scoundrel, cocky as hell but pure at heart. It's like choosing between G.I. Joe and Robin Hood, and the resulting fight should be pretty brutal. Heads will roll.
Ned Stark (1) vs. Mance Rayder (3)
Here's a small, potentially spoilery Season 6 tease: early casting calls suggest that a younger version of Ned Stark will appear in a flashback scene in an upcoming episode. We mention this because, as purists, we're not counting that as a legitimate return of the Ned Stark we knew and loved. We want the real thing: Mr. Sean Bean, in all his gruff, guttural glory. But Eddard Stark, who bested Jeor Mormont and Syrio Forel to get to the third round, faces some stiff competition (not a corpse pun!) in the wildling king. The old gods aren't even throwing poor Mance a flashback this season, even though only one of the two survived being burned at the stake in the books, thanks to a bit of Melisandre trickery. As much as we love Ned, maybe Rayder deserves to return to the show more?
Grey Wind (5) vs. Robb Stark (3)
Oh boy. Grey Wind has already squared off against his direwolf sister Lady in this tournament, and now he has to face off against his master, Robb Stark, who was also butchered at the Red Wedding? Nuts. Grey Wind might have the edge here, though, since Robb had to battle his way past the Hound in the previous round and might be a little worn down. But even fans of the slain King in the North have to ask themselves: do I really have the heart to vote against a cuddly furball?
Catelyn Stark (1) vs. Ygritte (2)
Granted, Game of Thrones offers a lot of options when it comes to dead female characters; perhaps it was inevitable that two of the strongest would wind up going head to head. Catelyn Stark easily triumphed over her sister Lysa in Round 1 and innocent little Shireen in Round 2, likely because we admire Cate's fierce commitment to family and the fact that she died fighting back hard against Walder Frey. Ygritte, meanwhile, won fans' favor over the villainous Locke and then Robert Baratheon, the freaking king. She's fierce. But without a wildling army at her back, does Jon Snow's fierce gal pal have what it takes to bump off a sentimental fan favorite?
Khal Drogo (1) vs. Oberyn Martell (2)
After stomping puny little Jojen in the last round, breaking the tiny hearts of #TeamJojen, Khal Drogo is out for blood. You can tell he wants to win this bracket. He sees those other khals on the show now getting so much attention online and wants in on the action. But he's got pretty stiff competition in the form of Oberyn, who made swift work of Maester Aemon. This is a match-up that pits brains against brawn, or to put it in Princess Bride terms, Mandy Patinkin's Inigo Montoya versus Andre the Giant's Fezzik. Prepare to die!
Ned Stark (1) vs. Syrio Forel (5)
Game of Thrones fans have serious season-one nostalgia. But it's warranted because of who we lost, notably Ned, a fair-minded, practical leader decapitated far too soon, and Syrio, Arya's balletic fencing instructor in King's Landing (whose fate on the show has only recently been confirmed). The latter made it to this matchup against the Stark patriarch after edging out Barristan Selmy in a first-round squeaker, but will the beloved minor character be able to say "not today" to the god of death this time around?
Mance Rayder (3) vs. Maester Luwin (7)
Our tournament's two dead Maesters -- Luwin and Aemon -- have emerged as the sentimental favorites of this bracket. Maybe it's their killer combination of ancient knowledge, dry humor, and wrinkly skin? Voting against one of them can feel like voting against your grandpa. Whatever it is, everyone loves a Maester! So you might think that it would be tough for the less grandpa-y Mance Rayder, the leader of the free folk and King-Beyond-the-Wall, to win out here. Then again, he does kinda look like he could be a cool uncle. Which grumpy old man do you want to bring back?
Ros (8) vs. Grey Wind (5)
Now that was a huge upset. Really, we're shocked Ros made it to the second round. Maybe it's because she was paired with King Joffrey Baratheon, the most hateable villain in Game of Thrones history, who also just happened to kill her on a sadistic whim? Sure, it was fun to root against the brat, but Ros' victory shows that we viewers aren't cool with (mostly) innocent characters getting tied up and crossbowed in gruesome fashion. But now Ros is up against Robb Stark's sweet, cuddly direwolf, who coincidentally also met his end via the crossbow (and who trounced his sister Lady to get here). And look who may await him in round three: his best pal Robb. Aw.
Robb Stark (3) vs. The Hound (2)
Last time we saw the Hound on the show, he was bleeding out -- which is pretty much how he left his first-round rival, Benjen. Now we're pitting ol' Sandor Clegane against Robb Stark, who arrives after easily toppling wife Talisa. While Robb was a valiant fighter and able ruler who'd have made his father proud, we find ourselves missing the Hound's unpredictable outbursts more. Vote for whichever you like, but remember: Cleganebowl Get Hype.
Catelyn Stark (1) vs. Shireen Baratheon (4)
Catelyn made a mockery of her sister in the last round, as voters said "I want to see her fly!" by selecting Lysa a pithy two percent of the time. And it was nice to see Shireen exact revenge on the father who torched her. So how to vote here? It's a no-brainer for anyone who is Team Lady Stoneheart, but a bit trickier when you recall the screams of the wee Baratheon girl as she burned at the stake last season.
Robert Baratheon (3) vs. Ygritte (2)
Unlike that time he battled a wild boar, Robert Baratheon survived his fight with his brother Renly. But it was a close poll, and it's hard to imagine the slovenly Robert emerging victorious from a similar brawl with Ygritte, who destroyed the lispy Locke in round one. The wildling's got fighting skills, a heart of gold, and a quiver full of catch-phrases; all King Robert has is a mighty thirst. But will season-one nostalgia triumph again?
Khal Drogo (1) vs. Jojen Reed (5)
This is what brackets are made for. Khal Drogo, with his tribal tattoos, hulking muscles, and James Hetfield goatee, has no business stepping in the ring with a tiny Hogwarts student wannabe like Jojen. It's a true David vs. Goliath match-up. With the return of the Khals in the first episode of the new season, it's easy to see Khal Drogo picking up some steam here and riding a wave of Dothraki love to the next round. But never count out Jojen fans (or, as I like to call them, the Jo-hive or Jo-heads)! This one should be a nail-biter.
Maester Aemon (6) vs. Oberyn Martell (2)
Sorry, Myrcella and Viserys: looks like you two towheads are gonna stay dead. Now it's time to choose between the elderly Targaryen maester and the Dornish avenger. On the one hand, Old Man Aemon might have had plenty of history to discuss with Melisandre, now that we know she's as old as hell. But let's get real: Oberyn's the most watchable Throner in the game, whether he's getting crushed (literally) in battle, bedding half of Westeros, or simply holding court in the small council.
Both Ned and Jeor were respected fighters who mentored Jon Snow and both died under treacherous circumstances. The Lord of Winterfell was beheaded in front of his own daughters, while the Old Bear was stabbed to death by a mutineer who completely disregarded the Night's Watch bro code. Won't you help bring one of these dignified forces for good back into evil, evil Westeros?
Barristan Selmy (4) vs. Syrio Forel (5)
Much like in Highlander, here we have two distinguished swordsmen, but there can be only one. Will the exiled Kingsguard legend, dispatched last season by the Sons of the Harpy in the alleyways of Meereen, triumph over Arya's balletic Braavosi instructor (who we never actually saw die in Season 1, mind you)? Maybe. Or maybe not. Regardless, there can be only one.
Mance Rayder (3) vs. Mag the Mighty (6)
Together, Mance and Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg, king of the giants, raided the Wall in Season 4's epic "Battle of Castle Black." Mag rode in on a mammoth -- badass -- and perished after breaking through the gate's forces. Mance survived the battle but was imprisoned by Stannis Baratheon out of mercy -- only to be sentenced to burn at the stake after declining an offer of alliance. But you choose: does Game of Thrones need another plotting leader-type, or does it need more giants?
Tywin Lannister (2) vs. Maester Luwin (7)
They were both wise old white guys and they both have -win names. The death of Winterfell's maester, in front of the two youngest Stark boys, was definitely sadder, given that maybe the elder Lannister got what he deserved when Tyrion shot him on the privy. But it does kind of stink that Tywin the tactician isn't on the show anymore, right?
Joffrey Baratheon (1) vs. Ros (8)
Joffrey is a dick. But, at the same, the little goon was responsible for some of the most thrilling, agonizing, and iconic moments on the whole show and the series has struggled to find a worthy villain to fill his tiny, evil shoes. In comparison, Ros was a welcome tertiary character who was shot to death by Joffrey with a crossbow because... well, like we said, he's a dick. If you're a Ros-Tyrion-shipper, vote for Ros! If you're a dick, then you probably already voted and stopped reading this blurb. We understand.
Lady (4) vs. Grey Wind (5)
The world of Game of Thrones is dog-eat-dog, but this first-round matchup is direwolf-eat-direwolf. Sansa's stately pet was among the show's first casualties, having been sentenced to death because of bitch-face Joffrey. Grey Wind died along with his master Robb Stark at the Red Wedding. Freaking Lannisters!
Robb Stark (3) vs. Talisa Stark (6)
Robb and Talisa would have made a beautiful, righteous couple if Game of Thrones wasn't such a sadistic SOB. By the time of the Red Wedding, Robb was learning to play the "game" and Talisa was pulling a few of his strings -- while also carrying a future prince. But the bride and groom are long dead now. Unless you revive one of them.
The Hound (2) vs. Benjen Stark (7)
Not all GoT deaths are equal -- some of them aren't even deaths. Both The Hound and Benjen Stark are rumored to still be alive somewhere, both surviving on the edges of the vast fictional universe that lives underneath George R.R. Martin's black fisherman's cap. We don't exactly see either die on screen, though they've both been presumed dead by some. Which one do you want to remerge from behind a rock somewhere?
Catelyn Stark (1) vs. Lysa Arryn (8)
We always thought Lysa was a bit misunderstood: she was a devoted mother to her son, Robin -- but more devoted to her lifelong love, Petyr Baelish. If she'd kept better priorities in mind, or simply realized how slimy Littlefinger was, she might have watched her back. Instead, she wound up flying through the moon door. But ol' Lysa had already served her purpose to Littlefinger (and the show); when Catelyn lost her life, we felt like she still had work left to do.
Stannis Baratheon (4) vs. Shireen Baratheon (5)
This is pretty brutal and a possible first-round upset. In this match-up, we've got a deeply flawed, unthinkably cruel father vs. a sweet, almost nauseatingly innocent daughter. Shireen was burned alive under orders from Stannis, who was under the influence of Melisandre, so it would be fun to see the Grayscale-infected moppet return and get revenge on the red woman and re-unite with her pseudo-big sister Gilly. But, at the same time, Stannis was such a constant presence on the show for the last four seasons that it's hard to imagine the series without his military prowess and depressing interactions with his family.
Robert Baratheon (3) vs. Renly Baratheon (6)
We've got a real family feud here. Renly is the younger brother of the brutish Robert, and bringing back either one of these characters would make things pretty complicated in the Seven Kingdoms. For one thing, both characters would have a lot of vengeance to seek. Renly would obviously be gunning for Melisandre, who killed him with her dark magic, and Robert would probably have some choice words for the entire Lannister crew. Who deserves their sweet revenge more?
Ygritte (2) vs. Locke (7)
Is anyone going to really vote for Locke? Ygritte was a badass warrior and mother of 1,000 GIFs. Locke on the other hand was a scheming jerk, and not even in the fun Joffery way -- he was just unpleasant. The only real competition here is who had the better death. Personally, I'm partial to Locke getting his neck snapped by a Bran-controlled Hodor.
Khal Drogo (1) vs. Xaro Xhoan Daxos (8)
Everyone's favorite Dothraki warrior keeled over in the ugliest way possible and turned into a vegetable by strange magicks. Daenerys smothered him out of respect -- but Khal Drogo could return, if you will it. Or maybe it's time for the charismatic, Qarthian merchant Xaro to escape his vault incarceration and mount a Mother of Dragons opposition? A long shot, but...
Shae (4) vs. Jojen Reed (5)
All the Jojen fans raise your hands! No? Just the one guy at our office who's really into the mystical Bran storyline? If you're pro-Jojen (or a "Jojenhead" as the one guy at our office who's really into the mystical Bran storyline likes to say) your time is now. But competition's stiff in Tyrion's backstabbing romantic interest. Shae had a tough life! She made some bad choices, but who wouldn't want to see her redemption? That Jojen fan, that's who.
Viserys (3) vs. Maester Aemon (6)
Maester Aemon, proves that someone dying from old age can be just as sad as the shocking, violent ends so many Game of Thrones-ers face. The forgotten Targaryen was Viserys' great-uncle and far, far wiser, so he'd probably agree with us that the so-called Beggar King was born to wear that pot of molten gold on his head. But c'mon -- you know Viserys would make a great slave to Khaleesi.
Oberyn Martell (2) vs. Myrcella Baratheon (7)
Myrcella perished off the coast of Dorne last season after returning from a long absence from the show, and many fans felt her death at a young age further minimized her role unfairly. Oberyn, too, had but a brief time to make an impression: he was in just eight episodes of the show's fourth season. But his command over Westeros was undeniable: Pedro Pascal's performance brought some much-needed honor, sexiness, and levity to the series. But alas, he died. Memorably. And hard-to-watch-ly.
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