So today the BEST OF '11 Circus is all about the best gals and guys you've run into reading this year. This list kind of made me realize that maybe I've been slacking on my reading? And then I remembered that this summer was the summer of A Song of Ice and Fire all day, every day. It was really very easy to make my list after that. Just a warning, some of these may contain spoilers.

5) Val: Val is the younger sister of Dalla, wife of Mance Rider who is King-Beyond-the-Wall. You don't see her very often, and when you do it's usually through Jon Snow's eyes. But what we do see of her is amazing; she's strong willed, gutsy, enjoys herself and others, and is committed to her family. But what you know the most is that Jon respects her. He respects her will, her determination, her time for grief and her autonomy. When he's given the choice of taking her to wife without her consent he turns it down because he knows Val is stronger and better than that. You come to respect Val because the only person we see her through respects her, and believes through and through that she's deserving of that respect.
4) Catelyn Stark: Catelyn gets so much hate in ASoIaF fandom it isn't even funny. It makes my heart bleed guys, because while Catelyn is not flawless, she's definitely a lot smarter than a lot of the men in Westeros and if one of them would listen a lot of bloody-tear-inducing events that go down in A Storm of Swords would have been avoided. She's a Southron lady who knows how to play the Game of Thrones, it's just that no one actually believes her. Her determination to see her children alive, and the quiet strength she bears when she believes most of them are dead is breathtaking. All I can say to this fandom is: haters to the left.
3) Daenerys Targaryen: Dany was my absolute favorite character in the very first book. Her plot line is one of intense self discovery and growth. She transforms from a terrified child, abused by her brother, friendless and without parents, into a strong and determined Khaleesi, capable of standing up for herself and demanding her birth right. Her introspection is finely wrought and beautifully played out.
2) Cersei Lannister: We cannot talk about the women of Westeros without talking about Cersei Lannister. Oh god, my feelings on Cersei are many and varied and I don't even know where to begin. What I love most about her, and what makes her number two on this list and fabulous women of Westeros is her ability to play the Game of Thrones, play it well, and be totally unabashed and without shame about the way she plays and wins. Cersei hate in the fandom is stronger (and often more terrifying) than hate against Catelyn because one of the things Cersei is unafraid to use as a weapon is her sexuality. But what a lot of people forget is she's living in a society where that is the only tool available to her. Her brothers and her father can use their swords, their gold, and their minds. And while Cersei has both gold and a mind, nothing but her sexuality is ever recognized. She's a woman whose success would have been much more easily achieved had she been a man, and she knows that and hates it. So she plays the game the only way she can to get what should have been hers in the first place. And the more you learn about Cersei, her insecurities and her fears, her transformation from the girl Robert Baratheon married twenty years ago into the woman she is at the start of the series, the more you feel for her. She's the product of a misogynistic society, and a lot of the misdeeds people attribute to her have actually been committed by men around her. I could go on and on but the point is: Cersei, cunning and awful and wonderful. I love her.
1) Sansa Stark: If my feelings on Cersei Lannister are many and varied, my feelings about Sansa are limitless. She's thirteen when the series starts out, innocent, and she's never left Winterfell (the Stark seat). If Daenerys' journey of growth and self discovery are finely wrought, Sansa's is a masterpiece. She is, in my opinion, going to be the only Stark that survives the end of the implosion of Westeros. Much like Cersei, she's learning to play the Game of Thrones the only way a girl in her position can, and she's learning fast. She gets a lot of criticism for being meek and passive, but she's thirteen, she's not Arya, all she wants is to be married to a knight and have children (which is a valid desire, especially given the fact that she's been spoon fed those stories for as long as she knows). Instead she gets slammed with tragedy after tragedy, is betrothed to a boy who is most definitely a sociopath, and she manages to survive in the pursuit of her own happiness. She's not swinging swords or fighting battles or poisoning kings, but that's because she wants to live and she's learning that if she wants to live in the political climate her father helped create, she's going to have to play the game. And she's learning, good god is she learning. Nothing would please me more than if George Martin made Sansa sit the iron throne at the end of the series. Nothing.

So, these are my top five characters for 2011. Do share yours! And don't forget to check out the rest of the blog circus:
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