WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR THE GAME OF THRONES SEASON PREMIERE FOLLOW
The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones is finally here and with only six episodes remaining, nearly all the final wheels were set in motion in the season premiere episode, simply entitled “Winterfell.” With so many characters needing to impart information, vengeance, or forgiveness on each other, the chess pieces shuffled across the board at an alarming rate, even as the show returned to basics with having long, dialogue-heavy sequences. With all that has now been revealed, just who has the best claim to the Iron Throne and how likely is each potential monarch to sway the people of the Seven Kingdoms to their side?
It needed to happen and it finally did: Jon Snow knows his true identity is Prince Aegon Targaryen, the sixth of his name, heir to the Seven Kingdoms, and the last true son of House Targaryen. The news from Samwell Tarly came as a shock to Jon on multiple levels. Firstly, that his entire life has been a lie. Secondly, that he had been engaging in carnal activities with his aunt. His true parentage coupled with the horrific news that Daenerys murdered Sam’s father, Randyll Tarly, and brother, Dickon Tarly, in dragon fire may quickly lead to a rift between Jon and his newly minted queen.
This reveal upends the entire board. For almost seven seasons, Daenerys Targaryen has been working towards one goal: restoring her family’s line to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. She was doing this under the impression that she was the last of her name. It is unlikely she will give up her claim now that Jon’s lineage is known. But Jon Snow has a better claim. Taking a look at the Targaryen family tree shows Daenerys is the daughter of King Aerys II, with older brother Prince Rhaegar being the heir to the Iron Throne until his death in battle with Robert Baratheon. However, as the son of Prince Rhaegar, and the male grandchild of King Aerys II, Jon Snow takes precedence.
Daenerys is likely to cite Targaryen history, which has long bloodied the Seven Kingdoms when heirs go to war. Over and over the people of Westeros watch as their royal family descended into deadly squabbles about the rights of succession regardless of the sex of the heirs. As the direct descendant of King Aerys II, Dany could state her claim is stronger by being one degree of blood closer to the deceased Mad King. But Seven Kingdoms are just as backward as they ever have been and would fight a female ruler while a male option lived. Coupled with her slaughter of Westerosi soldiers in the Reach and her outsider status, Dany would have a hard time calling banners to her name.
This puts Jon Snow in position to take the Iron Throne, should he wish to make a claim. But after just backing Queen Daenerys, what could possess Jon Snow to turn his cloak? Revealing his parentage would only throw gasoline on the already smoldering tension between the Targaryen forces and the natives of the North. Honor. Despite everything, Jon Snow is Ned Stark’s son. When Sam Tarly tells Jon what Dany did to Sam’s family, he asks Jon if he thinks Daenerys would give up her throne, like Jon did, to save her people. If Jon decides the answer is “No,” that is justification in his mind to begin to pull away from their alliance. And despite her dragons, Jon has enough loyal men to pull it off.
Last season, Game of Thrones spent a great deal of time collecting the noble families of the North and having Jon Snow earn their trust. The end result was the North declaring Jon their King and breaking free from the Seven Kingdoms again. Most of those Houses are still loyal to the Stark family, and those wavering in light of Targaryen amongst them would certainly return to the fold if Jon declared himself King once more. To that loyal number, Jon can add the entirety of the Wilding community. His numbers swell again if Jon can get back into his sister’s good graces. With Lord Baelish dead, the Vale is loyal to Lady Sansa Stark. If Sansa thinks Jon is finally thinking clearly, surely she will add the Vale’s strength to his army.
But those aren’t the only Forces Jon could use to bolster himself against the Dothraki horde and the Unsullied. Currently, Prince Theon Greyjoy is on his way to Winterfell. Once he arrives, Theon will offer Daenerys and Jon his ancestral home of Iron Islands as a regrouping point. With all their history, however, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that the Greyjoys will join forces with the Starks against the Targaryen invader. Then, oddly enough, there is Samwell Tarly.
In Season 7 of Game of Thrones, House Tyrell was devastated. Every single branch plucked clean, the lords of the Reach are no more. As one of the highest vassals of House Tyrell, House Tarly would have been in line to become the next house to rule the Breadbasket of Westeros. With his father, Randyll Tarly, and brother, Dickon Tarly, dead, and the rules of the Night’s Watch fading in importance, it is possible that before all is said and done that Sam will be Lord Samwell Tarly, Keeper Of The Reach. If that’s the case, Sam will side with Jon, bringing the abundant harvests of the Reach north to feed Jon’s army.
Cersei’s Golden Allies
If push comes to shove in the North, even if the Night King lays waste to both armies, Jon Snow has the better claim to the Iron Throne. But only if he can unseat the woman currently sitting on it. Just how good is Queen Cersei Lannister’s hold on her kingdom? From the looks of things, tenuous at best. Eliminating her enemies in one fell swoop also left Cersei with a greatly depleted source of loyal men. Besides Euron and his faction of Iron Islanders, Cersei stands virtually alone in the Seven Kingdoms. So much so that the beginning of the season sees her hiring mercenary group the Golden Company.
The Golden Company is well known in the universe of Game of Thrones as being the most efficient, well-trained sellswords in the known world. But even purchasing 20,000 men-at-arms won’t be enough. The Golden Company may be known for never breaking a contract, but they’ve also never been faced with an unkillable enemy like the Night King’s army. Without a cause to cling to, there is a high probability the sellswords will turn tail and flee in the face of supernatural evil.
Night King in the North
Of course, no discussion about claims to the Iron Throne would be complete without mentioning the unthinkable: the Night King could win. Game of Thrones is not necessarily out for a happy ending. If the disparate human groups don’t learn to cooperate, punishment for their pettiness could come in the form of the Night King steamrolling them. While unlikely, the opening credits of this season seem to show the progression of the wight horde. If it should get all the way to King’s Landing, the Night King could well unite the Seven Kingdoms, but not in a way anyone saw coming.
Blacksmith No More?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the dark horse contender: Gendry. The bastard son of King Robert Baratheon, Gendry represents a completely different kind of monarch. Should the Seven Kingdoms wish to roundly dismiss the Targaryen line altogether, the salt-of-the-earth son of jolly King Robert might be just the ticket – should Gendry somehow be legitimized, despite his bastard status. And should Arya Stark’s flirtation with Gendry blossom into love and eventual marriage, the North may rally behind a Stark queen that reminds them so much of their late beloved Lady Lyanna Stark.
Discarding the Iron Throne
Almost as unlikely is the idea that no one will sit the Iron Throne and instead, the Seven Kingdoms will become separate once more. Each ruled by their own monarch, the continent would return to the days of old.
But most likely? All hail King Aegon Targaryen VI!
Some other points of interest raised by the season premiere…
-If you’re wondering how Gendry so quickly spotted that Arya’s blade was Valyrian steel, it’s because Valyrian steel has a very distinctive look. Due to its density, the material must be forged over and over again, folding the steel back upon itself hundreds of times. By the time the Valyrian blade is complete, it has an unmistakable ripple pattern dancing across it.
– The episode ended with a now familiar symbol. Inside the ruined hall of House Umber (please join us in saying RIP to young Ned Umber) we once again saw a variation of the design the White Walkers have been leaving in their wake. But this time, instead of trees or rocks, they returned to using human remains, much as they did in the show’s pilot episode. We still don’t know this symbol’s exact meaning, but it’s hard not to see some similarities to the Targaryen family symbol. Recalling the prophecy that “the dragon has three heads,” it is possible the Night King is descended from Targaryen blood of Old Valyria. After all, he has a dragon of his own now…
– Bran clearly has machinations to his own ends. Even knowing how important it is to unify everyone into a cohesive whole, Bran Stark is adamant that Jon Snow must know the truth about his parentage. With Winterfell caught in a pincer move between the Night King’s horde to the north and Cersei’s army to the south, why is Bran intent on poking this tenuous alliance at this very moment?