This week’s question is pegged to the final season of Game Of Thrones: Who do you want to win the game of thrones?
If our time together in Westeros has taught me anything, it’s that it’s a place where “good” and “smart” are typically mutually exclusive qualities. (Looking at you, Ned Stark’s big dumb severed head.) So here’s to the exception that proves the rule, and my pick for our benevolent future monarch: The Giant Of Lannister, Tyrion The First. Tyrion’s not perfect—his self-pity overwhelms his empathy more often than I’d like—but he’s the only person in the series who’s capable of understanding that smallfolk aren’t just a sort of two-legged cattle that crap out food to feed your castle, while also refusing to engage in the prophesied action hero nonsense that’s going to get Dany and Jon Snow killed. Plus, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, he has the most important qualification to rule of all: He really doesn’t seem to want the job. But unlike his boorish brother-in-law Robert, Tyrion is still a hard worker despite himself, something he proved ably during his successful stint as King’s Hand to his terrible double-nephew, Joffrey.
There was a time when Game Of Thrones extracted a lot of wicked joy from subverting fantasy tropes, like when the ostensible main character got his head cut off and then when the other ostensible main character got stabbed at a wedding, so I’d like it to smash one last trope by putting Samwell Tarly, killer of white walkers and curer of greyscale on the Iron Throne. What better way to sidestep expectations than by making Jon Snow’s sidekick be the ultimate hero? It would be a victory not only for Samwell himself, but for Tolkien’s Samwise Gamgee (who Samwell is clearly modeled after) and for under-appreciated people named Sam all over the world—err, I mean all over Westeros. We’re talking about fictional Sams here. Anyway, just imagine the series of events that would have to unfold in order for this to happen. Maybe he broke bad and killed all of the serious contenders? That may seem grim, but King Sam (like all Sams) would surely be a wise and just ruler.
Sure, there are the contenders we’re all familiar with, but I don’t think there’s anything like unanimous approval of any of the leading candidates for Westerosi dominance. But I believe I’ve found the one person we can all get behind, someone whose can-do attitude and implacable badass behavior would find universal support should she call for it: Lyanna Mormont, a.k.a. Tiny Mormont. I’ve already pitched her spin-off series, but now I realize I’d much rather just see her assume the Iron Throne, dispensing tough but fair justice throughout all the seven kingdoms. “Lyanna: Once We Bend The Knee, We’ll All See Eye To Eye With Her” would make for a solid campaign slogan, and she’s certainly proven she can handle cowing an entire roomful of loudmouthed men with her steely resolve. Honestly, who could possibly be bummed out by this outcome? Hell, with some medieval instrumentation and a few tweaks, you could repurpose the “Tiny Elvis” theme song for her majesty. This is looking more and more like a win-win scenario for everyone, so maybe Cersei was wrong, after all.
Mine’s a bit of a cheat, but nevertheless: I want a lady triumvirate to rule together. The story Game Of Thrones is telling is about the transference of power, from the older generation to the younger, and seemingly—hopefully—from men to women. Westerosi history shows that men in power make bad decisions, but it also shows that a single person sitting on the throne is more often than not corrupted by power. Women should lead, and they should lead together. Daenerys Targaryen and Sansa Stark should set aside their differences and band together to rule; that much is obvious. But there will still be threats to the throne, and one of those can go from enemy to ally by joining Daenerys and Sansa on the throne—maybe Yara Greyjoy or a Sandsnake will make the trio complete. This way, the women won’t be dependent on marriage to seal pacts and power. They’ll no longer need men, in other words. I don’t see Cersei willing to share the throne, but the other women could be wise enough to realize that a true break with tradition is necessary to lead Westeros against the real threat of the white walkers. And if the living must unite to fight the dead, why not make that unification on the throne as well?
Worthy answers all, but I must ask you, esteemed colleagues: Why not Pod? Sure, Podrick Payne is a relatively minor player in the great game. No, he does not hail from one of the great houses of Westeros, and yes, every other recognizable face and/or viable candidate would have to be wiped off the board in order for this lowly squire to rise to power. But you must admit there’s nothing objectively upsetting about this notion, aside from the deaths of characters we’ve spent much, much more time with, whose fates have been the subject of much debate and hand-wringing in the 23 years since A Game Of Thrones’ publication. Look, I just want nice things for Pod, whose sole victories in seven previous seasons have been “saving Tyrion’s life” and “being so good at sex that his money’s no good at the brothel.” Can’t the guy just catch the absolute biggest of breaks?
Yes, Daenerys Targaryen is the neoliberal of the A Song Of Ice And Fire universe, a charismatic but mostly policy-free figure who preaches peace and practices war. More specifically, she’s the Hillary Clinton of ASOIAF, riding her previous accomplishments on a wave of perceived inevitability into Westeros to claim the title she sees as rightfully hers. But you know what? Let her have it. Underneath her grand rhetoric about breaking chains and adopting entire populations, Daenerys is a practical leader, one who sees the virtue in surrounding herself with people who know what they’re talking about. She’s not one for feminine niceties, but what good will flattery do up against the likes of Cersei Lannister, let alone the Night King and his undead horde? She’s got advisors for that—like Tyrion Lannister, who makes a better Hand than he would a king, and would probably tell you as much if you asked him. Whether her promises of a lasting peace after all her enemies have been destroyed are real, well—that remains to be seen. But wouldn’t Jon Snow make a handsome king? Maybe he could take up baking cookies.
Gendry spent three seasons in a dang rowboat before reappearing as a blacksmith last season, but the Flea Bottom denizen’s claim to the throne remains as viable as ever. In season one, it was revealed that Gendry was King Robert Baratheon’s bastard son, a fact that would’ve gotten him slaughtered had the wrong Lannister found out. Varys, knowing that the boy’s royal blood wasn’t strong enough to propel him through the storm of swords guarding the throne, ferried him off to the Wall with Hot Pie and a disguised Arya instead. The result? A few new friends and his uncle’s betrayal, which came in the form of a supernatural witch and some blood-hungry leeches. Now, after years of floundering in his powerlessness, Gendry’s cozied up to Jon Snow and, by extension, Daenerys Targaryen. Once the white walkers have been dispatched, will he assert his claim in the face of her own? Or will he, like so many have before, bow before her dragons? Hey, he’s got a hell of an argument, but Dany’s dragons have never been good listeners.
I don’t hold out much hope that Davos Seaworth will make it out of this show alive. He’s just beloved enough—and just unimportant enough—to make an emotionally fraught, but non-plot complicating, sacrifice to the Game Of Thrones body count gods. But if he does manage to survive the oncoming wight flight and every throne-lusting Targaryen, Lannister, and Baratheon does not, Davos would make an excellent ruler. He’s a morally upstanding guy, which Game Of Thrones has made a point on numerous occasions to show how that’s a liability, but Westeros is going to be pretty wrecked-up after the ice crystals settle, and will need someone clear eyed who can unite the kingdom more than a merciless bloodletter. Davos is clear-eyed, and has proven in his pursuit of alliances to oppose the Night King that he places the best interests of the kingdom over his own safety or fortune. He also keeps his own finger bones around his neck for luck, which is both badass and folksy, which I bet is the sort of humanizing trait that passes for the all-important “candidate you want to have a beer with” in the brutal world of Westeros.