On April 14th, 2019, my fraught relationship with HBO’s Game of Thrones will come to its bittersweet, ice-crusted end. The show has been by turns thrilling, frustrating, deeply dumb, incredibly smart, and undeniably gorgeous. As an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novels it has often missed the point. As a cultural phenomenon it has been both alarming and encouraging to behold. It was a show that could both rile you with its excesses (Sexposition! Rape camps! Ramsay Bolton!) and enthrall you with scenes in which two people simply sit together and talk (Arya and Tywin 4EVER). How cavalierly it reduced atrocities to plot-points! How vast were the inner worlds conveyed by Lena Heady’s smirk!
In Season Seven the show was the epitome of itself, mashing excellent episodes like “The Spoils of War” (with its nail-biting dragon attack) against physics-defying romps like “Beyond the Wall.” Ah Gendry! How easily you ran those fifty miles back to Eastwatch while your friends sat on a rock surrounded by dead guys…doing what, exactly? At such times, one had to completely suspend disbelief and go with the goofy insistence of the showrunners (you know you have a problem on your hands when you have to have a special “Here’s what we were trying to say!” featurette at the end of every episode).
Still, those of us who put up with the bullshit were rewarded: even the worst Throne’s episode–probably “Oathkeeper” (because rape camp!) or “The Broken Man” (because total betrayal of Martin’s message!)–had its moments. In Oathkeeper it’s the soul-stirring entrance of the Blackfish. In The Broken Man it’s Lyanna Mormont. And while “Beyond the Wall” has enough plot-holes to fly a dragon through it also sports some of the show’s funniest interactions:
Jon: [when Tormund suggests fucking to keep warm]: There’s not a woman within a hundred miles of here!
Tormund [slyly, eyeing Gendry]: We’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.
It was often these unexpected pairings of characters that produced the show’s most electrifying moments–scenes of just two people in conversation that made your heart trip or race or soar. While Bronn vs. Drogon was everything Thrones ever did right: two beings we care about pitted against one another in mortal combat, the show was somehow more exciting when Arya and Tywin talked dragons, or when Tyrion and Jorah recited poetry, or when Cersei and Robert discussed their marriage. It was then that we knew why we gave a damn about this story. It was then that we knew we were going to miss it, no matter how badly it hurt us, every time. It was never a perfect show. It veered wildly between gratuitousness and profundity. “The Lion and the Rose” gave us both Ramsay hunting his former bedmate and Sansa handing the wine glass back to Tyrion. Moreover, the sloppiness of later seasons ensured that it just missed being great. No matter. It was never The Sopranos or The Wire, but for eight years we were happy to make due with what we got.
The following are my (almost certainly wrong) predictions about how the T.V. version of Game of Thrones will end. Beware: Here be dragons and spoilers. Also did I mention: I’m probably wrong?
Part 1: Who will sit the Iron Throne?
1. Not Jon.
To paraphrase Ramsay: If you think Jon Snow is going to win the Iron Throne, you haven’t been paying attention. From the moment Ned Stark’s head got separated from his body, Game of Thrones has thwarted all the normal tropes of fantasy. We expect Jon Snow to learn he’s the heir to the Iron Throne and, accordingly, to claim it as his own. However, I there’s a fair chance Jon won’t even be alive—or if he is, it will be as the mere King of the North.
Hell, Jon may not even find out who he is. Kit Harrington has teased “a sledgehammer” coming for him, but the exact nature of such has yet to be confirmed. The only characters who currently know Jon’s true identity are Bran and Sam—but seeing him with Dany, they could decide not to tell him. The White Walkers are eminent. Jon needs to be focused. Suddenly learning he’s a Targaryen prince who just boned his aunt might just put him off his stride. Also, given the threat to humanity, Jon’s birthright isn’t the all-important issue it used to be.
Other evidence to this theory is in the second teaser for this season where the feather symbolizing Jon’s secret is crusted over by the onrush of ice. I think that image that reveals what we’re in for. The whole question of the show: “Who will sit the Iron Throne????!!!!” isn’t actually the question at all. The real question is, does any of this bullshit matter given the existential threat of the White Walkers? I think both audience and the characters are about to discover that no, it doesn’t.
2. Daenerys lives but never rules.
Good news! Daenerys is going to live—but she won’t sit the throne either. For evidence, I present that scene in season 2 where Dany almost touches the Iron Throne—but not quite. It’s as close as the show ever got to dramatizing the prophetic visions routinely experienced by the book’s characters. Since they cut all the other visions (and gave us, perplexingly, Theon-torture instead) I’m guessing there was a compelling reason to keep this one intact. Daenerys will get really close to being queen but….
3. If she does rule, it will be as Queen of Ice.
Unlike its touchstone, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones depicts a world in which magic is returning: Daenerys has hatched the first dragons in a hundred years, and the Night King has risen to destroy mankind. Rather than diminishing and going into the West, Martin’s powers of ice and fire will wage a battle for dominance. I suspect, based on Dany’s vision, that ice wins this round, forcing the survivors into hiding (to dream of spring, as it were). If that happens, there’s little chance Dany will rule—unless she’s been turned into an Ice Queen by some smirking blue-eyed bastard. This would fit with the theme of magic ascendant—and the story’s penchant for ripping out our hearts (and tongues!). In a complete reversal of Prof. Tolkien’s vision, the story will end with the realm remade by magical beings.
4. The Iron Throne Won’t Exist
Of course, no matter who lives or dies, I think the Iron Throne is toast. There’s another Ice Queen sitting on it currently and, to paraphrase Gandalf, “she does not share power.” Even if the White Walkers are destroyed, King’s Landing won’t be fit for human habitation. The references to fire in Cersei’s dialogue are as numerous as those of head-chopping in Ned’s. (Seriously, go watch Season One. The guy might as well have been wearing a sign.) Cersei is also the utterer of the famous “you win or you die” line. Guess what option she’s going to take?
If, either by wild or dragon fire, the Iron Throne is reduced to a meaningless puddle, it would provide a neat counterpoint to Jon Snow’s frozen feather. Like Jon’s identity, the throne doesn’t matter. Only White Walkers. And dragons.
Part 2: Who Lives and Who Dies?
People who think GOT is great because it kills people neglect to examine what happens when those people die. There is no story without Ned Stark meeting the headsman—it’s the stroke that launched a thousand plot points. Likewise, the story is deepened by the deaths at the Red Wedding, by Lisa Arryn plunging out the moon door, by Oberyn Martell, um, going blind. Martin’s intent wasn’t to just kill people but to demonstrate the consequences of violence as a solution. Thus, when someone dies on GOT, the story shifts as with seismic activity. Characters go spinning in unexpected directions, power vacuums open and the stakes jump to 11. If we’re about to see some payoff to this horror show it’s because everything else had to happen first.
1. Arya kills Cersei (probably wearing Jaime’s face).
One expectation I’m confident the show will grant us is that Cersei Lannister is goin’ down. Cersei has systematically made everyone hate her—even her once beloved brother, Jaime. In the books, there’s a prophecy that she’ll be killed by “the valonqar,” a High Valyrian word meaning “little brother.” Or does it? High Valyrian is (as Missandei could tell you) the language of dragon riders and dragons are sexless. So this word could actually mean “little sibling”—and guess what little sister has it in for Cersei? That’s right: Arya Stark, who still has a name to cross off her list. What better way for her to get to Cersei than to disguise herself as Jaime? (And what the hell was any of the faceless man crap for anyway unless it figures into the plot at some pivotal moment?) Arya could easily acquire Jaime’s face, especially if, as I suspect…
2. Jaime goes down swinging.
Jaime’s going end up like all bad guys with a redemption arc: dying by sacrificing himself for something (or someone noble). I’m guessing he dies defending Tyrion or Brienne since they’re the only two characters who love him. Jaime dies. Jaime is redeemed. Arya steals his face and destroys his sister. The valanquor prophecy does double duty. It comes true but (par the course for Martin), not as we expected.
3. Davos, Jorah, Brienne, Beric, Euron, UnGregor, the Hound, Tormund, Grey Worm, Varys, Melisandre, Maester Qyburn, Theon, Ghost*, and the Dragons* all die.
A few of these deaths have been all but foretold. Varys and Melisandre had a talk on a cliff. Theon keeps insisting along the lines of, if there’s any justice “my burned body would hang above the gates of Winterfell “(hint! Hint!!!), the Hound and the Mountain are set for CleaganeBowl, and Maester Qyburn (who I weirdly like) has a loyalty to Cersei that’s going to destroy him.
What about all the other poor bastards and broken things? A lot of this is 50/50. In other words, Varys might survive despite Mel’s prophecy (she’s been wrong before), but if he does, she definitely gets it. Likewise, I think the show will allow either Brienne or Pod to live. Same with Missandei and Grey Worm—and any other beloved pairs. As for the lovely and talented Jorah Mormont, if he doesn’t die with a soulful “Khaleesi” on his lips there will be riots across the western seaboard.
Most of these deaths will, I suspect, come down pure emotional blackmail on the part of the showrunners. Call me cynical, but after eight years, I don’t really trust D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. For every great character moment on the show there’s an equal and opposite body count often exceeding and out-goring that in the books. My guess is they’ll visit the maximum amount of pain on the audience out of sheer lack of understanding Martin’s M.O. To wit: Davos or Tormund will die in battle (probably mid-sentence with an arrow through their their eye). Ghost will show up just to croak* because D&D have never had a clue of what to do with the direwolves. Drogon will battle Viserion to the death* and, defying all logic, Jon will land Rhaegal on the battlefield where the noble dragon will be promptly ripped apart by White Walkers* while Jon “Miraculously Survives” ™.**
Oh, and Beric Dondarrion will survive just long enough to get Jon to the Night King, then he’ll snuff it and Jon will, in all likelihood, pick up his flaming sword and finish the job.
Thanks for the hand up, Fire-Bro! No sleep ’til we hit King’s Landing!
4. Arya and Bran live.
People keep saying that the show has it in for the Stark kids—but in both the book and show most of them are still alive. This is one area where I think the two mediums will match. Arya and Bran in particular are both magic users and this is a story about magic returning. We’ll probably be led to think Arya has died at some point, but she’ll turn up wearing another face—and Bran can warg into whoever he wants so he’s probably immortal now.
5. Sansa lives to rule in the North.
In both the books and the show Sansa Stark is one of the most vulnerable and brutally used characters—but she’s also the character who evolves the most. Her consolation prize for all the beatings and rapes is to outlive her tormentors as the powerful Lady of Winterfell. This also fits into another theme of Martin’s story: the patriarchy ceding to female rule. Tolkien ends his trilogy with The Return of the King. Martin seems to be building to The Return of the Queen. Viewers will note that most of the power players in Westeros are now women. I think that will remain once the war is won. My fondest wish would be that Martin includes Dany in this formula and that, not only does she live with her humanity intact, but she rules as a fair and just monarch. But that’s too fucking tidy, isn’t it? Martin’s flipped the script on a lot of fantasy tropes but I don’t think he’ll do it for Dany. Sansa’s going to live though, so yay. And also Yara. Which reminds me:
6. Yara lives to rule the Ironmen
Yara is a badass.
7. Tyrion or Gendry live to be King.
All right then, so if neither Jon nor Dany become ruler, who in the high-diddly-hell does?
I think the answer probably lies in the fact that the show has kept Tyrion and Gendry around for so long. Why else would the bastard son of Robert Baratheon be brought back into play at this pivotal hour if he didn’t have some purpose? Aside from Dany or Jon, Gendry has the best claim to the throne. (It’s possible that, as with Pod, Bronn, and Ramsay, the show just likes him but never mind.) Meanwhile Tyrion, the most accomplished political wheeler and dealer in the realm (once Varys kicks it), seems poised to remain the power behind said throne. It isn’t hard to see Tyrion becoming Gendry’s Hand and leading him as would have led Dany. Alternately, if Gendry turns out to be a red herring, Tyrion himself could become king. Tyrion has some of the last legitimately royal blood in our cast (hell, he’s one of the few royals still breathing). Also, so many of the current survivors like him that he could win the popular vote.
It’s also possible that Tyrion is a secret Targaryen. There’s a lot of foreshadowing to this effect in the books. The show has yet to tip its hat in this direction, but they waited until the last second for Jon, too. If Tyrion is a Targaryen, he would have the next best claim after Jon. (Side note: Martin also based his story on the War of the Roses. Richard III, who provides some character DNA for Tyrion, was one of the more notable kings in that struggle. If Tyrion is Martin’s Richard figure, it would make sense that he ends up ruling the kingdom–although, unlike Richard, Tyrion would make a wise king—and if he even goes near the final battle it’s going to be on a dragon, not a horse.)
Another way this theory could work: Gendry becomes king in King’s Landing, and Tyrion, who is also still technically married to Sansa Stark, becomes the unlikely King in the North. This is actually a pretty appealing scenario. Sansa once scorned Tyrion, but given subsequent events, would probably find him a more pleasant match now. He’s kind (at least to her. RIP Shae). He’s rich. He’s powerful. He might need somewhere to crash once the world ends. For his part, he appreciates smart, beautiful women and he could make the case that he and Sansa pool their resources post-icepocalypse. This would be a kind of twist on the “Frog Prince” (we know Martin likes to play with faery tales). Sansa’s whole character arc has been about kissing frogs and shedding her expectations of romantic chivalry. If she came to accept Tyrion and consciously choose him as her partner that would be a pretty neato payoff for her. (Then again, I freely ship Tyrion Lannister with pretty much every woman on this show.)
8. Jon and Dany run away together.
Of course, if Gendry or Tyrion become king, what happens with Jon and Dany? Well, obviously they renounce all their aspirations of power and decide to ride off into the sunset with their miraculously surviving dragons.
9. Just kidding. This is Game of Thrones.
While I think there’s actually a case to be made for love conquering all and Jon and Dany peacing out (Jon because he has never been power-hungry and Dany because she’s always been power hungry and might have had enough of it by show’s end), sadly I think it’s far more likely that a death of some kind is in their future. This could be a metaphoric death: maybe, discovering that they’re related they realize they can’t be together because that’s the sort of thing that births Mad Kings and keeps the wheel turning. However, if the show does what I think it’s going to do, the following scenarios seem more likely.
10. Dany bears Jon’s son and dies.
In case you haven’t noticed, Game of Thrones is absolutely lousy with lines of succession. Who marries who, who gives birth to who, who is who as a result–these are the questions that have fueled the conflict and shaped the lives of everyone from the Bastard of Winterfell to the Queen of Thorns. It would make a ton of thematic sense if Dany were pregnant by Jon Snow. Their child would be the ultimate heir to the throne and a promise of hope despite all the lives lost. But as we know “only death can pay for life” so if there is a baby, I’m guessing it will only have one parent. Since those prophetic life-and-death words were originally directed at Dany, my money is on her biting the dust in this scenario.
11. Dany and Jon get married, plan to rule together, then Jon dies saving the world and Dany bears Jon’s son.
As long as Dany is still human, I’m fine with this. Jon dying would be unexpected, very GOT-ish, and would make us feel lucky if Dany and baby stayed alive.
12. Dany and Jon get married, plan to rule together, then Jon dies saving the world, Dany bears Jon’s son, Tyrion confesses his undying love for her and they get married and live happily ever after. The end.
A girl can dream.
13. Somewhere, a dragon has laid some eggs.
One thing I’m almost positive about is that the show will close on a portentous close-up of a new dragon egg waiting to hatch. This will be the Disney-character Band-Aid offered the audience to bind up their gushing emotional wounds. (It also fits thematically—magic returns–and puts a nice bow on Dany’s story arc. She’s probably dead,** but she still made a lasting mark on the world.)
14. Bronn gets his castle.
The show loves Bronn. We love Bronn. Bronn loves Bronn. It is known.
*God fucking damn it!!!!
** GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!!!!!