Warning: spoilers for all Game of Thrones Season 8 episodes up to and including Bells
It's been eight years since Game of Thrones came to our screens, at the beginning of the first pilot was filmed, and early book readers have been waiting for this story for 23 years now – and in 79 minutes next week, it will all be over. But what exactly has this series been taking for the last eight epic seasons of television?
The question we've been asking for all those years has been, of course "Who will sit on the Iron Throne?" that time, it seemed like an obvious solution was staring us all in the face. Fans worked out a long time ago that Jon Snow was the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and with the confirmation that he was also legitimate after all, and therefore the "rightful" heir to the Iron Throne, the obvious solution would be some Child of power sharing between himself and Danaerys Targaryen, either through marriage, or by having her Queen in the Iron Throne and him King in the North. This would follow the fairly standard fantasy narrative of a royal scion rising from humble beginnings to becoming the true king in the end, while Dany's story was often painted as a sort of triumph of the underdog, considering how low some of her character's low points have
However, the two episodes we've seen since the fall of Night King in episode three of season eight seem to have pretty much scuppered that idea. Danaerys character has always lived under the shadow of her father's actions and has always been aware of the concern of those around her that she might end up the same way ̵
It is also important to remember that ever since Mirri Maz's betrayal, Danaerys has been ruthless. "I'm not a princess – I'm a Khaleesi" has become a rally cry for female geeks, but part of the Dothraki means ruling a people who consider sexual violence and murder to an essential component of the average wedding (just the first of many disastrous weddings on Game Of Thrones ). Danaerys' response to the cruel of the slave masters of Yunkai was to re-visit some of them, and when Sam's father and brother refused to bend the knee she had roasted alive. She has also been single-minded in her determination to recover the throne, her family took the first place by destroying their enemies with dragon fire, taking her brother's obsession after her husband, with her approval, murdered him. Perhaps we should have seen all that putting Danays on the throne would not, in fact, constitute a happy ending.
A happy ending is definitely not the people of King's Landing have got now. All those years ago, Jaime Lannister broke his oath and destroyed his reputation for the people of King's Landing, but it seems that effort was wasted, as Aerys Targaryen's son has returned to finish the job. We know the ending of this story will be "bittersweet" but after what Dany has just done, seeing here ultimately triumph would be positively downbeat. Narratively speaking, we'd say she's taken herself out of the running at this point, even if within the world of Game Of Thrones she is currently in the strongest position.
If this were a traditional epic fantasy story, Jon Snow / Aegon Targaryen would be a shoo-in for the throne, but everything we've seen in these two episodes suggests to us that actually, that's not where his story is going. There was an after-episode four when Jon simply gave Tormund his dirwolf Ghost without even petting him goodbye, but we think that's actually counting where Jon will end up – living north of what was one of the Wall with Ghost and Tormund, in a society without kings. Jon admired Mance Rayder, fell in love with Wilding woman Ygritte, and has never been happier than when he was undercover with them, not to mention getting killed while trying to build a peace with them. He will find his way to live and live among the ice, where he can call himself whatever name he chooses and it won't matter.
Is there even an Iron Throne to sit on, anyway? The Red Keep has been destroyed, but whether the physical throne has survived remains to be seen (the building seems to have collapsed rather than being burnt by dragon fire, so the throne may still be intact). On a more metaphorical level, it has often been suggested that the series should not end with any one or two characters sitting on any child of throne, but with the emergence of democracy in Westeros.
It is certainly possible that some kind or proto-democracy may be established by the end of the series. British medieval history, and medieval Britain saw the slow emergence of elements of democracy that gradually mutated into the democracy with a constitutional monarch that we have today. It started when King John protected certain rights of the barons by signing the Magna Carta, which led to the creation of Parliament, through which the king had to work in order to raise money for wars, and which mutated numerous times over the years, with the arrival of a king (George I) with shaky at best English leading Parliament to take much more control
It's not impossible that the conclusion of Game Of Thrones will indicate some kind of power-sharing for Westeros, with the signing of a Westerosi Magna Carta. The series has made it clear all along that it is impossible to rule without the support of the lords, ladies and landowners, something Danaerys will probably find out the hard way next week. But 79 minutes seems like quite enough time to set up a fully-fledged democracy, which would probably be a satisfying television final. On top of that, the character most able to set up some child or new system for power sharing, and who has always acted first and foremost in the interests of the people, got dragon-roasted in the first few minutes of episode five. Whether the Seven Kingdoms remain intact or not, Westeros is going to need at least one ruler of some child to keep it together, or two, if the North and South are divided.
There aren't many pieces left on the board at this point – the only two viable candidates left are Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Of the two, Sansa seems by far the safer bet. Tyrion is a broken man, psychologically speaking, and although he has played the game well in season two, he has since lost his touch, largely due to his soft spot for his brother and even his sister, however much she has hated him. Sansa, on the other hand, has more than anyone else over the course of the series, learning how to rule – and how not to rule – from Cersei, Margaery, and Littlefinger. On top of that, she has a brother who has visions and a sister who is a trained assassin. We can even see a power-sharing marriage after all, if Tyrion and Sansa's touching nostalgia for their letter in episode three is anything to go by – but we suspect Tyrion will to retire to Casterly Rock, the home he has always wanted to inherit and drink his days away from sheer guilt at where his choices have led.
So there we go – we're staking our claim. Whatever power-sharing agreement is reached, the winner of the Game Of Thrones is going to be Sansa Stark, with help from the armies of the North (which her brother / cousin has now withdrawn from King's Landing and will throw behind her) and her ninja assassin little sister. Tyrion Lannister will share in the victory, but he will be a pyrrhic one, and he will never forgive himself for it.
Come back next week to talk about how wrong we were!