I've never read the Game of Thrones/*Song of Ice and Fire* series of books. I watched the first two episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones show and none of the characters struck me as someone I could identify or trust - perhaps Ned Stark, but I don't have high hopes for him sticking around. Is this true for all the characters? Are there any with redeeming qualities? Will I find myself loathing them all? I find that I favor characters that you could generally call "heroic" - will I find any in Westeros?
Well, The Song of Ice And Fire is definitely not a good guys vs. bad guys kind of fairy tale. A character who seems to be good may do a bad thing, or do something utterly stupid. A character who seems like a villain may show some redeeming qualities. Also, anyone can die at any moment - just like in real life.
Nothing is what it seems. To me A Song of Ice and Fire is very much like Dune: wheels within wheels. It also often shows [good] people at their worst, and sometimes [bad ones] at their best.
So if you are looking for a fairy tale with a perfect hero who does no wrong, then you may as well stop watching. But if you can take the brutal realism of this "fantasy", and if you are willing to keep an open mind, then keep at it. Some of these characters may grow on you.
UPDATE: And if you do decide to stick with it, I highly recommend reading the books.
If they stick close to the books, and if they go on with the entire series, then my guess is that you'll have many moments of empathy towards the most unexpected characters, as well as many disappointments in the most likeable ones.
Tyrion Lannister! He is a sympathetic character who has a balance of cunning and compassion. You will come to like him later!
As subjective a question as this is, I think that that is partly the point of GOT, the characters are flawed.
There are some more flawed than others, certainly. It gets complex, but, at least for the outset, in a nutshell, Stark == Good, Lannister == Bad.
Bear in mind that the TV series, as comprehensive as it is, is just a fairly adequate distillation and dramatization of a very complex series, and can never hope to capture the complexities, or motivations, of many of the characters.
On the Stark side Ned is bound strongly to his honor, for better or worse, Catelyn is bound by the love of her family, Robb is strong if young, Arya is very likable and also strong, Hodor is a gentle giant. It's hard simplify Jon Snow to a redeeming character, as his, in the first book at least, partly a coming of age story but his initial downfall is pride, but he is a very identifiable character.
On the down side for the Starks, Sansa is vain and self absorbed.
On the Lannister side, there is certainly a lot of cunning, but Tyrion is the only one who I could honestly say appears to show any real moral character.
As a group, however, there is no real shining moral beacon among them, they are all blinded by power or alliance.
Outside of the characters you've already seen, Davos Seaworth is probably the most unadulteratedly honourable character in the series, unswervingly loyal while still speaking truth to power. In fact, the only redeeming feature of Stannis that I can think of is that Davos chooses to stick by him. Brienne of Tarth is a similar character, and gets plenty of action to boot. I would happily label both of these characters heroic, and hope for those of you watching the TV series that the casting of both is as good as it has been elsewhere.
But even pretty central characters like Jon and Daenerys are pretty unambiguous fairy-tale good guys, and on the other end of the spectrum you have those like Gregor who are caricatures of bad guys.
Martin writes a range of characters - the contrast between the one-dimensionally evil Gregor and his brother Sandor, who goes from callous murderer to being eulogised after his apparent death, is quite striking. But on the whole I think it just so happens that the most complex characters coincide with people's favourites - Tyrion, Jaime, Arya etc, so people perhaps concentrate overmuch on the ambiguities. Ultimately, what gives Martin the control over the drama in his books, is that he has characters that can lever any emotion. If all the characters were deeply ambiguous, or if they were all one-dimensional, his range would be limited. Instead, he's limited by nothing.
Well, characters will be unlike those you have in LoTR/Narnia. GRRM is famous for writing complex characters and at killing off many of them. AFAIK, HBO only makes very un-heroic stories into TV series.
However, the complexity goes both ways. Though you may find that there is a streak on badness in almost all of the characters(Jon and Daenerys are exceptions), you will find that there is a streak of goodness in may of them. I found myself empathising with several characters I absolutely thought were villains at the start of the series.
My advice to you would be to carry on, GoT is not as simple as nobody's heroic.
One of the things I love about GRRM is his character development and his willingness to accept that circumstances and situations cause people to change--sometimes drastically and not always for the better. He does such an excellent job of creating these characters that, regardless of what they do, you understand it from their point of view even if you don't like it (as a mom, I totally understand why Catelynn Stark becomes what she does). Some characters I, personally, have a more difficult time wrapping my head around, and some characters I'm relieved when they die, but they are unique, well-thought-out characters nonetheless.
HBO, of course, will never really be able to go into this depth of character development, and if you're looking for a Frodo or an Aragorn, you're not going to find it in GOT.
There are plenty of characters with redeeming qualities, often in unlikely places. If you're looking for Lord of the Rings-like "good versus evil", you won't find it here. Martin creates realistic characters, some mostly "good"/"honorable"/"loyal", some mostly "evil"/"selfish"/"cruel", but many, like in the real world, are complex shades of grey, and change over time.
If you want to watch a quite good interpretation of the books, please do watch GoT. But really, read the books too!
If you like your characters to be heroic, then I would suggest staying far, far away from anything Martin writes.
(If you like your characterizations to be internally consistent, ditto, but that's getting a bit... subjective.)
Stannis Baratheon can at least be counted on for stubborn consistency.
Of course! almost all of them, save a few select ones. ramsay snow is unredeemable. Joffrey is as well. Gregor is unredeemable. The VAST majority of folks are psychologically complex, flawed (like all of us) human beings. Sandor is going to be redeemed. He may be there already in the last of the books. he has already turned against the senseless slaughter and left king's landing. Sansa will be redeemed as she will be, i EXPECT, a warg dragonryder. After all a brother and two sisters have to ride those dragons, per history (see scene of Tywin and Arya at Harrenhal). Although arya and sansa are not true sisters to jon, they are the closest thing he has, and the starks are all wargs. Dany can't control the dragons. she is bringing them to those who can. Tyrion is redeemed. Theon i believe will be redeemed. Catelyn will be redeemed for her errors. a major premise of this epic is personal transformation of each character. Ramsay, not so much. and i suspect he is going to face the same karma that he gave all of his victims (women mostly). Hunted down by Nymeria and her pack of dogs, wolves and direwolves as Ramsay tries to escape Arya (The Stranger). and she's going to flay him and hang him upside down. slowly flay. Just like the bolton sigil. who else but a soulless one to kill another soulless one? of course arya still has needle, which will be her token back to humanity and family again.
I totally get what Catelyn did as well, as a mother. Erroneous, but understandable, just like her disdain for Jon Snow. There has to be a scene where Catelyn is present when Jon's true lineage is revealed. Oh, what a dramatic scene that will be when Catelyn realizes that the grudge she held for so long against Jon and Ned was based on a deceit that the honorable Lord Eddard had to use to keep secret the truth of baby Jon.
Yes there are. Part of the awesomeness of the books is that characters redeem themselves. As for good guys, there are plenty. The Starks do dumb things sometimes, but basically they are good. Jon Snow, Sam Tarly and a fair number of Night's Watch are good. Like in real life, good or evil is relative to the baseline "normal". There is a great deal of redeeming qualities to most of the characters. You learn to see these after exposure to the EVIL guys like Viserys, Joffrey, Gregor Clegane, Ramsay Snow, Tywin Lannister...