The number of contenders for the Iron Throne has dwindled sufficiently over the last few seasons of “Game of Thrones,” but just when Cersei Lannister thought Daenerys Targaryen was the only one left standing in her way, in rolls Bran Stark with some news that’s bound to cause drama from all sides as the HBO series nears its end.
Someone once told me, “If you think it, ink it”…so here’s just a bit of my current outlook on who’s left playing the game for the ugly chair.
Regardless of how things play out in the end, we’ve already lost several of the “Great Houses” along the way.
The Martells and the Tyrells are all gone; and with the exception of Sam (who, for the time being, is still a Man of the Night’s Watch), so are all the male Tarlys. Arya took care of all the male Freys for us, and Sansa/Jon took care of the Boltons. Save for Gendry, a bastard with no legitimate claim to his ancestral home, the Baratheons are out as well. Unless Tyrion marries and reproduces, we’ll never see another Lannister that isn’t also a bastard. Jon and Dany, who still believes she can’t have children, are the last Targaryens. The Umbers joined the Army of the Dead earlier this season. And most recently, we saw the end of House Mormont.
If anyone lives, whoever takes the throne is going to have to reorganize the Seven Kingdoms—leaving that person with the task of naming “Wardens” and whatnot in order to properly manage Westeros.
Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen:
The more I think about it, the more I feel bad for Dany. All she has ever wanted is a home, and she’s “home” for all of about four minutes before she agrees to leave it to fight for Jon. Sure, she shows up with an army of foreigners, but that still doesn’t lessen her legitimate claim to the throne. Jon bent the knee, and by naming him their King, the Northerners gave him the authority to make that decision. Perhaps Dany could be a little nicer about it, but she really isn’t the one who deserves all the pushback.
On a personal level, Daenerys is completely alone in this world—and even more so now that Jorah is gone. Jon has his own family, and one that is as tight-knit as it gets. Even looking back on Theon’s return: it was another emotional moment for the Starks, but a heartbreaking one for Dany. Finally she had a friend in Winterfell, and yet he wasn’t there for her.
Getting back to the point…Although Sam Tarly doubted that Daenerys would ever be willing to surrender her crown for the good of her people, the survivors of the Battle for Winterfell cannot possible deny the sacrifices she made to ensure their victory. Dany put her own life as well as the lives of her dragons on the line and everybody saw that—including Sansa Stark before she headed to the crypts.
Dany has made some ruthless mistakes, but sometimes it’s better to make the ruthless mistakes than the ones Jon has made out of pure impulsiveness and arguable stupidity.
Episode 4 preview observations...In what little we see of Dany in the preview for Episode 4, she seems to be back in the driver’s seat for now. Her two dragons survived, and it looks like the North is finally warming up to her as they “cheers” to the next phase.
What I can’t figure out is why anyone would want to head straight into another battle after what they just went through—especially seeing as most of the Stark-Targaryen army has been destroyed and Cersei has the 20,000 members of the Golden Company plus the Iron Fleet and however many men are fighting for her on behalf of Euron Greyjoy.
Jon Snow (a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen, Second of His Name):
More Episode 4 preview observations…With the exception of seeing Jon lead the others in burning a large pile of dead bodies, there is no other sign of Jon in the preview for next week. What we do see, however, is one of Dany’s ships as well as her dragons heading who knows where—so the question is whether Jon is on it. (Side note: best guess is Dany is going to tell Yara about Theon in person and let her know they're ready to take on Cersei.)
Does he even care about his claim? Just prior to the battle, Jon avoided his queen at all costs and has barely spoken to her since revealing his secret. He never wanted to be a king; he only wanted to do what he could to protect the North. Whether or not he wants the throne doesn’t change the fact that Dany helped him destroy his enemy, and now he has to help Dany destroy hers.
I don’t think Dany’s response to the news was to Jon’s liking, but she did save his life during the battle; and some conversation must have occurred between Dany and Jon in order for her to be the one addressing Jon’s men. (And for those of you thinking maybe it’s Yara Greyjoy’s men she's speaking to in the preview, take a second look. The Stark sigil lines the walls behind her.)
The King in the North. Needless to say, if Jon ever let slip that he is the last male heir to the Iron Throne, the entire North would support him in a heartbeat. Unless, of course, his men decide they despise Targaryens so much that they see him as the enemy. Regardless, based on what’s occurring in the preview for Sunday, I find it highly unlikely that anyone else is going to find out his true parentage in this next episode.
Still a Stark at heart. The other question mark with Jon is his loyalty to the Starks. Would the writers have made such a moment out of Arya’s insistence that he prioritize his family if that conversation wasn’t going to have some eventual impact on the storyline? The likelihood of Jon’s survival is now 50/50—especially without Melisandre there to bring him back—so the question is which he is willing to fight and/or die for: Dany or his family.
Cersei Baratheon (nee Lannister):
Here is my issue with Cersei: apart from having a larger army and access to the wildfire that is currently spread throughout King’s Landing, Cersei doesn’t pose a big enough threat for her to be left as the show’s final villain. While many fans thought the Night King died too soon, I disagree—I believe the storyline always had to come down to the characters in the end. If the Night King is gone for good, it likely means that a major betrayal is forthcoming, courtesy of one of our living favorites.
That being said, we can’t count Cersei out. Every time we have underestimated her, Cersei has pulled through. And the one thing Cersei does have that every queen needs is the ability to produce an heir—something that will make her a more attractive candidate to some. She’s going to be surprised to hear that life won out, but she has the larger army and she will be ready.
A healthy reminder. When Cerseit ordered the hit on her brothers, it was under the assumption that Bronn would make it to Winterfell ahead of the Night King’s army. So, either the Night King made it there faster than she anticipated—which is unlikely since the hit came after she discovered the dead broke through The Wall—or Bronn is not heading north. And if Bronn’s not heading north, then he could be a threat to Cersei.
I still have no solid theory for what Bronn will decide. After all, when Joffrey commanded the City Watch to kill all of King Robert’s bastards, Tyrion asked Bronn whether he would murder a newborn without question if ordered to do so. Bronn responded simply that he would have one question: “How much?”
That was a whole lot of gold Cersei gave him, but Tyrion has also repeatedly offered to double it. Decisions, decisions…
Gendry (surname unkown...maybe Waters?):
As the last living son of King Robert Baratheon, Gendry would be next in line to the throne in the event that both Jon and Dany die—putting him above even Cersei, who has no royal bloodline that we know of. Cersei is nothing more at this point than the disgraced widow of a former king, whom many considered a Usurper to begin with.
For the record, seeing as the Northerners named Jon Snow as King in the North despite his bastardry, legitimacy doesn’t seem to matter these days anyway—but it’s worth noting that Westerosi bastards can be legitimized by royal decree. We saw this twice in previous seasons: once with Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow), who was legitimized by Tommen Baratheon, and a second time with Stannis Baratheon, who offered to have Jon Snow legitimized as “Jon Stark” once he took the throne.
This isn’t to say that Gendry will eventually contend for the Iron Throne, but at the very least it would make him a perfectly acceptable match for a certain highborn lady who already has his heart. Arya never wanted to "marry a high lord and rule his castle," but perhaps she can be persuaded.
Some Missing Names:
Despite all those we’ve lost, there are a few people still left in the game that the writers seem to have forgotten about (for now).
House Tully. We still have yet to learn the fate of Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun and Lord Paramount of the Trident. Without her knowledge, Arya’s uncle was still rotting in the dungeons at the time of her mass assassination of House Frey. You’d think one of the women she left behind would realize this and either set him free or use his captivity to the Frey/Lannister advantage. His wife and son are still alive, after all.
House Arryn. While all his men are up North fighting for House Stark, Lord Robin Arryn remains peacefully at the Vale of Arryn wondering what to drink without his mother’s breasts.
House Reed. Although not technically one of the “Great Houses,” this is perhaps one of the more confusing abstentions from the Great War. Meera and Jojen Reed played a huge role in the earlier seasons, yet their house did not rally to fight for the Starks when they needed House Reed the most. Although Jojen was already dead and Meera was north of The Wall with Bran at the time, their father was still Lord of Greywater Watch when Jon and Sansa were recruiting Northern Houses for the Battle of the Bastards.
Last time we saw Meera, she told Bran that she wanted to be with her family “when they come”—meaning that she does, in fact, have a family—and her father, Howland Reed, was supposedly Ned Stark’s most loyal bannerman. So where are they?
Syrio Forel and Stannis Baratheon. Not much to say here... I just don't like loose ends, and we never actually saw either of these characters die.
Three episodes left…
In the week following the Battle for Winterfell, I have ultimately decided that the episode did not bother me as much as it did others.
The darkness. The fogginess of your screen, while frustrating, was intentional and there is proof. Not only did Jon warn us that “the enemy brings the storm,” but the most stunning camera shot of the episode was also a vivid depiction of Dany and Jon flying above the clouds in a clear night sky that you cannot see from below. The director wanted us to realize how agonizingly difficult it actually was for the living to see what was occurring around them, and there is a tragic beauty in that.
What we lost. That being said, the reality is that if the army was basically blind in battle, more of the notable characters should have died. The fact that Grey Worm and Podrick lived through this battle despite previous scenes that seemed to foreshadow their deaths still boggles the mind. What that tells me, however, is that we are once again in for something much worse in the coming weeks.
In fact…Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys Targaryen, has disclosed that Episode 5 is the one we don’t want to miss. “Find the biggest TV you can,” she told Jimmy Fallon earlier this week.
Mother’s Day. Looking back at my old “Game of Thrones” recaps, I was reminded that the Season 4 finale—namely the episode where Tyrion kills his father, Tywin Lannister—aired on Father’s Day of that year. I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but felt it necessary to mention that Episode 5 will air on Mother’s Day—meaning that I will be keeping an eye out for the fates of Cersei and potentially Dany (if her pregnancy theory plays out).
To read my recap of Season 8, Episode 3 before Sunday’s episode, click HERE.