Okay, okay, we get it: You love Tyrion.
And with good reason. We love Tyrion, too! And Brienne, and Jaime, and Sansa, and everybody else who has a continuing story on Game of Thrones. Any one of them conceivably could have appeared on our list of the 25 Best Characters on TV Right Now. (Fine, that’s an overstatement; nobody’s voting for Ramsay Bolton, right?)
So naturally, when it came time for EW’s TV staff to decide which of these fascinating creations is currently the show’s best, things got a little contentious. (See more about the list’s criteria here, where you can also vote for your favorite TV character.) In a tiebreaker vote, though, the choice became clear: Arya beat Tyrion, and by a fairly wide margin.
Why? Maybe because even though Tyrion starred in one of season 4’s most unforgettable moments—that shiver-inducing trial speech—Arya spent the season gradually transforming from who she was to who she’s going to be. Her scenes are less showy than Tyrion’s, but no less compelling.
Over the course of the series, Arya has grown and changed more than anyone else on Thrones (yes, Tyrion included), morphing from cute tomboy to steely child assassin. She’s weathered an unending storm of troubles since witnessing her father’s beheading in season 1, losing not only her parents and (as far as she knows, anyway) most of her brothers, but also the friends she made after fleeing King’s Landing and every increasingly twisted substitute father figure she’s crossed paths with along the way (Yoren, Beric Dondarrion, the Hound, even Tywin Lannister, to some extent).
And yet somehow, Arya hasn’t dissolved into a weepy puddle or a catatonic zombie. By season 4’s end, she’s sharper and more furious than ever—see, for example, the awesome/awful laughing fit she has after being told that another one of her relatives has met a nasty end, which is bitter and wry and hopeless and delighted all at once. At the same time, Arya’s also become more calculating and less impulsive, thanks to The Hound’s dog-eat-dog (sorry) tutelage.
If Game of Thrones took place in a universe where “honor” meant more than “a fancy word for what gets you killed,” by this point, Arya would be Batman. Instead, she’s become something else entirely, an avenging angel with few ties to the world she once knew. She’s nasty, brutish, short, and fascinating, and her journey away from Westeros promises great things in her future—particularly because for the first time in four seasons, Arya isn’t being passed from guardian to guardian. She’s finally in control of her own destiny.
Speaking from a Song of Ice and Fire reader’s perspective, the show’s handling of Arya is often more interesting than the way it handles Tyrion. Thrones’ writers clearly recognize that the youngest Lannister has a special place in the hearts and minds of the series’ viewers—and sometimes, it seems as though fear of alienating his large, vocal fan contingent is preventing them from letting TV Tyrion descend to the same depths that Book Tyrion has. (See: Show Tyrion’s murder of Shae, which is motivated at least partially by self defense.)
For whatever reason, though, the show has no similar qualms about Arya. TV Arya is as vicious and murderous as her novel counterpart, if not more—but she remains sympathetic and engaging all the same. Her edges are honed, but underneath it all, it’s still possible to detect the girl who once wanted nothing more than to be a warrior as noble as her father—and if that’s not the mark of one of the best characters on TV, I’m not sure what is.
Oh, also? Maisie Williams’ accent is way better than Peter Dinklage’s. Yeah, I went there.