Who Will Sit on the Iron Throne at the End of ‘Game of Thrones’?

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Helen Sloan/HBO

There is only one episode left for Game of Thrones, marking the end of this sprawling, riveting, frustrating, and massively successful saga. But what will that end look like, and will it pay off?

As the show wraps up these final episodes, we’ve seen the obliteration of the Night King and his army, the fall of several beloved characters, and most recently, the complete mental breakdown of one of the frontrunners for the Iron Throne.

So, what does become of the throne, which has inspired so much travesty and bloodshed in Westeros? Who will get to sit on it? Will it even matter in the grand scheme of things?

We’re not sure what’s in store for the realm, the noble families, and the politics of the land, but let’s take a gander of the few players left in the game and speculate who might rule the Seven Kingdoms when all is said and done.

(Helen Sloan/HBO)

Daenerys Targaryen

Most of us are likely still reeling from the catastrophic events of the penultimate episode.

In “The Bells,” we witnessed Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)—a character we’ve watched rise from little to no autonomy and power into a champion of the disenfranchised and the breaker of chains—lay waste to the city of King’s Landing, burning it down along with thousands of innocent civilians. It’s a polarizing character shift that has unquestionably upended our faith in her rule.

One of the main reasons why Dany’s descent into ‘madness’ comes as an upsetting shock is because for eight seasons we’ve seen her build a campaign from the ground up. We were on a journey with her as she acquired allies, ships, and a following that believed in her rule wholeheartedly. Look no further than her long list of titles to see all that she had accomplished.

But now, the woman who used to free slaves has essentially carpet-bombed a city full of women, children, and unarmed men. A war criminal, a tyrant, and everything she swore she’d never become, Dany is now beyond redemption.

While it feels like a sudden reversal of what the character stood for, the show had hinted at the dark path Dany would take arguably since the very beginning, and even more so after many “fire and blood” declarations and ruthless executions.

We can go on about whether the show had earned this plot twist, but all but certain that this tragic arc will not end happily for the Dragon Queen. After that carnage, a reckoning will surely follow.

(Helen Sloan/HBO)

Jon Snow

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) has the best claim to the Iron Throne. He is Aegon Targaryen after all, the true heir of the Targaryen family. But as he constantly reminds us, he doesn’t want to be King, or hold any other kind of title for that matter.

The reluctant hero trope is a common one in fiction, but it theoretically works for a very important reason: It means that the hero, who has no real desire to rule, can govern not for self-gain, but for the greater good.

There are many criticisms stacked against Jon, such as his mediocre intelligence and befuddling war strategies. But one thing that is true of him is that he’s honorable and operates with a strong moral compass, just like Ned did.

He’s also merciful when he should to be, righteous when he needs to be, and loyal to those he has promised fealty to. And above all else, Jon cares about humanity, demonstrated by his relationships with the wildlings. In an ideal world, we’d want a benevolent person in power, who is capable of both fairness and empathy.

Many believe that favoring Jon in Dany’s expense is a misogynistic move on the show’s part, that the characterization of a beloved female character has been sacrificed for a male character who doesn’t inspire as much love from the fans.

And truth be told, it would leave a bad taste in our mouths, given how the show treated Dany’s arc, to have Jon sit on the throne after all of this. But if we’re being fair, that doesn’t seem like the story that author George R.R. Martin has been telling all along.

Jon’s role on the show hasn’t been about politics as it has been about saving mankind. Coming back from the dead as a savior figure to lead the war against the Night King felt like his narrative arc. Jon has already fulfilled his destiny, but maybe there’s one heroic act left for him to do before the curtain falls.

(Helen Sloan/HBO)

Sansa Stark

Less obviously in the running is Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), who has evolved into a smart, capable, and often level-headed leader. As Lady of Winterfell, we’ve seen first-hand how she acts in an authoritative role—she’s loyal and caring towards her people and advocates for their well-being.

Given recent events of Cersei’s (Lena Headey) demise and Dany’s controversial character shift, it’s more plausible than ever that Sansa could just take the whole thing. It would also give us a female character in a position of power and leadership worth rooting for, and we kind of need that catharsis right now. But alas, it makes the most thematic sense for Sansa to stay in the North, which is her home, the place she had fought so hard to reclaim.

In the end, it will be deeply satisfying to see Sansa establish the independence of the North and sit as its Queen, an earned conclusion that we all deserve.

(Helen Sloan/HBO)

Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has always had a propensity for politics—he’s shrewd, pragmatic, and understands human behavior. Okay, maybe he hasn’t been any of these things as of late, but these qualities are still buried beneath and are what made him such an interesting character in the first place.

He may be a shadow of his former self, but Tyrion represents something important on this show. He’s the underdog and given how one of Game of Thrones‘ themes is the rise of cripples, bastards, and broken things, it might feel right having Tyrion on the throne.

While his sister was just Queen, Tyrion doesn’t actually have a real claim. But as a character who has often favored peace over destruction, sought rationality over senseless killing (Shae and Tywin notwithstanding, of course), and who has shown compassion for the powerless, it would almost be fitting to see him do what he never thought was possible: Rule the Seven Kingdoms.

Someone Else or Nobody At All

And of course, there’s the strong possibility that none of the aforementioned characters will win the game, and there’s a likely chance that someone we never even considered will be on the throne. Maybe there won’t even be a throne in the end, who knows? Maybe the people of Westeros will opt out of a monarchy and establish a democratic system where they choose their next leader.

We have to remember that when Martin was asked about the story’s ending, he described it as “bittersweet.” From that alone, we can assume, and in this case hope, that some expectations will be subverted.

Will Game of Thrones deliver a satisfactory conclusion? We have less than a week to find out.

Game of Thrones, Series Finale, Sunday, May 19, 9/8c, HBO